Does my child have ADHD? During a parent teacher conference a teacher shared with a parent that her child has some of the behaviors associated with the diagnosis- looking around the room, having a hard time concentrating on work, being off task ( eg. getting a drink, going to the bathroom, staring out the window), needing constant reminders to stay on task, and talks to their neighbors excessively. So, after the conference, a parent questions, “But do they really have it or could it be something else?”
This may be a familiar conversation you’ve had or one of your friends have shared with you. I can imagine it feels very nerve racking with all the conflicting research out there on deciding to take a medicated or a non-medicated approach in order to help your child. It is important to consider all the factors that may be contributing to your child’s behaviors, ruling out medical issues, other diagnoses, environmental factors, functional vision and sensory processing deficits.
Did you know that the National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that:
“Current medications do not cure ADHD. Rather, they control the symptoms for as long as they are taken. Medications can help a child pay attention and complete schoolwork. It is not clear, however, whether medications can help children learn or improve their academic skills. Adding behavioral therapy, counseling, and practical support can help children with ADHD and their families to better cope with everyday problems.”
Research has shown that children diagnosed with ADHD often present with extra-ocular eye movements in anticipation of visual stimuli. Due to the frequent co-existence of vision deficits in this population, a study from Tel Aviv University has suggested that measuring eye movements may be used to “accurately diagnose ADHD as well as the benefits of medical stimulants that are used to treat the disorder… and help normalize eye movements needed for near-point tasks such as reading and writing.”
Here is a link to the full article: http://www.aftau.org/news/2014/involuntary-eye-movement-a-foolproof-indication-for-adhd-diagnosis
However, as the NIH points out, it is not clear whether medications directly improve learning and strongly recommends that other supports be put in place. Additionally the potential side effects of long term use of medications used to treat ADHD such as, development of psychiatric and cardiovascular issues often lead parents to consider alternative interventions.
So where does sensory integrative intervention fit in?
Many children with sensory processing disorders (SPD) and co-occurring ADHD/SPD also have difficulty filtering out visual stimuli, sustaining attention to task, and exhibit “avoidant” behaviors with learning tasks. Therapist specializing in sensory processing disorders can provide a vital support to this population. The vestibular (movement) system is the primary mediator of involuntary eye movements to provide gaze stability during movement as well as shifting attention between objects of interest and one’s surroundings. By enhancing visual-vestibular integration to improve ocular control, we also see improvements in the functional visual skills needed for attention and focus. Other skills addressed include strategies for self-regulation and development of praxis skills for ideation, sequencing and execution of multi-step activities, which are all critical areas of need for children with ADHD. This intervention may also be done in collaboration with Developmental Optometrists specializing in using vision therapy to remediate functional vision deficits.
Occupational therapists specializing in sensory integration strive to enhance both visual skills as well as improve learning and classroom participation. This addresses the piece of the puzzle that may often be missed when only using medication to treat behaviors associated with ADHD.