Sensory Strategies for Kids with ADHD

Sensory strategies are one of the most common and least invasive suggestions made to assist children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder  (ADHD) function more successfully in their day to day lives. Because of the increased awareness surrounding ADHD, it has become a popular topic for many adhd boyprofessionals. While this means that there is an ever-growing supply of research and increasing amount of resources for parents, teachers and medical professionals to reference; it also has the potential to be both overwhelming and confusing. Many of the professionals researching ADHD publish articles, books, and research papers with strategies they have found to be beneficial to children with ADHD. This has potential to be very informative and helpful but there is no unified terminology being used, and thus, the same suggestions are being made using different terms, creating a difficult system to navigate. Sensory strategies are included in some form in almost all approaches suggested for children with ADHD. Sensory strategies are also often referred to as “movement strategies,” or other similar titles, but provide the same suggestions and at their core are truly sensory strategies.

Sensory Strategies for kids with ADHD:

  • Allowing the child to take a 2-3 minute break every 10-15 minutes. This break should involve intense movement when possible, such as jumping jacks, pushups, jumping on a trampoline, etc. When intense movement is not appropriate, breaks may involve the student walking to the drinking fountain, getting up to sharpen his/her pencil and/or walking to the bathroom.
    • If an assigned task involves intense academic work, such as testing, lengthy projects or problem-solving assignments the child should be given the opportunity to take a longer break (approximately 10 minutes) to allow time for more intense physical exercise.
  • Provide a toy or item for the child to manipulate during solitary work. These items are often referred to as “fidgets,” and provide the child with an outlet to release their restlessness. Rather than continuously moving his/her body, the child can move his/her hands quietly in their lap or on their desk while manipulating the fidget.
  • Another way to incorporate physical work into settings where children are expected to be able to sit and attend to a task is to adapt the child’s seat. There are a variety of seating options available that involve the child working to maintain balance and an upright posture. Exercise balls are often provided in the classroom as an alternative to a standard chair, this allows the child to slightly move and requires him/her to use their core muscles to maintain seated. A T-stool is a flat, bench-like seat that is mounted on a single upright post. This provides similar sensory input to the child, without the possible temptations surrounding a ball. Rocking chairs have also been used both at a child’s desk and during circle time, and prevent much of the “disruptive” behaviors that teachers often observe during these quiet sitting periods of the day.
  • Gum is often not allowed in the school setting, but it can be an invaluable tool to a child with ADHD. Oral-motor input is something many children crave, hence why so many kids stick their pencils in their mouths or chew on their clothing. Providing gum to a child with ADHD provides them an outlet for their restlessness. The constant chewing/movement of the jaw and flavor options can act as an alerting stimuli as well as a grounding force, helping the child have the ability to better focus on the task at hand.

These sensory strategies can be implemented in the classroom, at home and in most other settings where a child is expected to be able to sit and attend to a task (church, Sunday school, music lessons, camp, etc.). Incorporating these strategies into particularly difficult parts of the day can also have an immense positive impact on the child; for example, incorporating physical exercise into transitional periods may lessen the stress that these times put on both the child and the adult. These sensory strategies are not strict rules to abide by, but are general guidelines to be expanded upon or adapted to fit each child’s individual needs.






Kelley Balmer

Kelley Balmer graduated from Midwestern University with a Master's in Occupational Therapy. Prior to graduate school she attended Purdue University and received her Bachelor's in Movement and Sport Sciences with a minor in Spanish Language and Literature. While attending Midwestern she participated in both observations and clinical rotations in a variety of pediatric settings, including a hospital, special education academy and outpatient clinic. Kelley's passion for pediatric occupational therapy continued to grow when she worked privately with a family who has two children with special needs while forming everlasting bonds with the entire family. Kelley also participated in a yearlong research project targeting the potential role of occupational therapy in the foster care system. Pediatric therapy is a passion for Kelley and she hopes to continue expanding her knowledge, education and role in the field.

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3 replies
  1. Steph says:

    I like the idea of giving those kids that chew on pencils something else to chew on, but I think I’ll use coffee stirrers. Probably cheaper and frankly, ew. Chewed on tubing seems gross at the end of the day; coffee stirrers can be pitched. Great article!!!

    Reply
  2. LizFoxSuperNurse says:

    At 26 I still deal with and manage the symptoms of ADHD. Looking back at my grade school experience, all of these interventions would have been a welcomed vacation (for me and the teacher,) from the constant nagging to “sit still and pay attention!” That being said I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 21.
    I had the habit of leaning back on my chair. Now of course many kids (and adults) do this, but I would tip my chair back and rock. Constantly. The exercise ball, the T stool and the rocking chair are all excellent ideas. Not only are they better alternatives to chair tipping, the exercise ball and T stool are actually productive in the sense that they engage the muscles and promote good posture and balance. I may just steal the exercise ball idea myself for when I’m sitting at the computer!
    The “fidgets” idea is brilliant. Silly putty is the first thing that comes to mind for me. Not a heaping mound, just enough to squish, roll up in a ball and squish again. “Plus you can stick it to the desk when you go out for recess and you’ll know where it is when you get back!” says my inner child.
    When I got to high school I was a pen clicker. If there was a product out there that could emulate the action of pen clicking, minus the annoying “click,” I would totally go out and purchase it tomorrow.

    Reply
  3. Amanda says:

    Wow, makes me think back to being in school. I always said i had to doodle on my paper to keep on side of my brain busy so the other side of my brain could pay attention. Wish I would have know then it was ADD.

    Reply

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