Occupational Therapy: ADD/ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder or Both?

As an Occupational Therapist working in Pediatrics over the years I have often heard a very common question, “Is what I’m noticing in my child ADD, Sensory Processing Disorder…or both?”. Parents find themselves scratching their heads trying to determine the root cause of their child’s distraction or inability to concentrate. Typically, the issue is brought to their attention by their child’s teacher, as their child is not able to follow the classroom schedule, remain on task during table top activities or stay seated during circle time. These parents may hear a similar story from the teacher about how the other kids in the class can be listening intently to a story during circle time while their child is doing mini summersaults in the back of room or how they cannot stay in their desks long enough to complete handwriting tasks. Parents are not sure what is causing this but they want to fix it and fix it fast before it begins to affect their child academically.

An Occupational Therapist experienced in Sensory Processing Disorder and other developmental diagnoses can help you determine the root cause of the issue and can ultimately guide you in the right direction, helping you determine if the mini summersaults little Johnny is doing in the back of the room during circle time is because of ADD/ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder or both. There are many similarities between the two diagnoses and it is very common for children to struggle with both. Recent research conducted by the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation has found that “between 40-60% of children who have ADHD also have Sensory Processing disorder.”

Similarities

Sensory Processing & ADD/ADHD
Distracted by Noise
Needing to get up and move frequently when they should be seated
Often needing reminders to stop and pay attention or follow directions
Seem to be always be moving and fidgeting
Has a difficult time organizing and staying on task at school or during daily tasks

Differences

Sensory Processing
The following are characteristics that typically apply more to a child with Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensitivity to sound, often displaying discomfort with loud noises
Difficulty tolerating various fabrics, especially clothing that has tags or is stiff like blue jeans.
Touches people or objects to the point of annoyance
Physically uncoordinated or called “clumsy”
Delayed in other areas of development
Difficulty with social interactions
Poor posture
Difficulty sleeping
Demonstrates “melt-downs” with transitions, especially those that are not expected.

ADD/ADHD
The following are characteristics that typically apply more to a child with ADD/ ADHD
Doesn’t pay attention to detail
Very impulsive with their actions like grabbing a toy or item quickly without permission from another child or adult
Has a difficult time switching between activities, may seem to be fixated on completing certain tasks
Often appears to be very forgetful
Often will not consider the consequences before acting
Has a difficult time recalling something recently learned or discussed

Once an Occupational Therapist determines what the root cause of the distraction may be, a detailed treatment plan can be assembled to help your child thrive across all of their environments including school, home and in their community.