Last week, I gave you guys a sneak peek into what behavioral therapy looks like for ADHD. This week, we get to delve into occupational therapy.
Think they’re basically the same thing? Think again.
The goals of these two types of therapy are as different as night and day. Whereas the goal of behavioral therapy is to redirect negative behaviors, the goal of occupational therapy is to teach the completion of everyday tasks.
For you, brushing your teeth might be a simple chore. You probably don’t even think about it while you’re doing it. Your mind might wander while you’re brushing, but you probably don’t get so distracted that you find yourself in a bathtub full of toilet paper with no idea where your toothbrush is.
Everyday tasks can be really hard for kids with ADHD. Their minds wander, their attention spans give out, their impulsiveness kicks in, and their energy levels are off the charts. Standing still and staying concentrated on something for four minutes can be nearly impossible for some of them.
That’s where occupational therapy comes in.
WebMD describes occupational therapy as “a way to help kids with ADHD improve certain skills, such as organization, physical coordination, ability to do everyday tasks (like take a shower, organize their backpack, or make their bed) quickly and well, control their “energy” levels, hyperactivity, etc.”
In other words, occupational therapists teach ADHD kids how to draw in their energy for short bits of time so they can accomplish small tasks.
And for kids who have ADHD, small tasks are a really BIG deal.
So how do occupational therapists go about helping these kids improve with stuff like this? It’s hard to imagine making progress in areas that aren’t concrete and measurable.
Well, probably much to your surprise, occupational therapy comes in several different forms. A child can be enrolled in clinical OT, at-home OT, or even school OT. Each version is guided by a different type of teacher, and different methods are used to achieve the designated goals.
My nephew, Felix, is currently doing OT at home right now, but will return to clinical OT again in a couple months. During at-home OT, Felix’s mom is his “therapist,” so to speak. They use their own supplies to replicate what the clinical therapists have taught them, but do so in a way that fits their budget, space, and time. For school OT, the goal remains the same, but they work on tasks that the child specifically carries out while in the classroom.
Here’s a picture of a few of Felix’s at-home OT baskets. (Bless my sister and her overly organized brain. She’s so perfect for him.)
Regardless of which therapy environment Felix is in, he always works on gross and fine motor skills. Felix focuses more on fine motor skills than most kids do because that’s an area where he particularly struggles.
In case you’re wondering:
Fine motor skills are what you need to complete tasks that require precise finger/hand movement, or movements that use the small muscles in your face, mouth, tongue, or feet. Most OT programs focus on the fine motor skills related to finger/hand movement, but, occasionally, they work on the others, too.
Fine motor skills are needed for tying your shoes, winking, curling your lip, rolling your tongue, curling your toes, and typing on a keyboard.
Gross motor skills are what you need to complete tasks the require large muscle movement, such as whole arm and leg movement, torso control, and whole body action.
Gross motor skills are needed for running, catching a ball, swimming, doing sit-ups, and jumping rope.
During clinical therapy, Felix usually starts by jumping on a trampoline for a bit. Then he plays in a ball pit, writes for a wall, colors, and then cuts. They help him work with therapy putty or other hand-strengthening activities, and then they end with a gross motor skill game like ring toss or frisbee.
If they choose to, they can also use weighted vests during therapy (which help certain children to feel calmer), “sensory boxes” (which are full of objects that stimulate sensory buttons in the brain), or even therapy swings. The possibilities are really only limited to the therapists creativity and/or resources.
During at-home therapy, Felix’s mom helps him work on those same skills, but they alter the tasks in ways that are manageable for their home life. For example, their house isn’t quite big enough for a ball pit or a gymnastics-sized trampoline, but they do have space for a lot of the other activities like coloring, games, stringing beads on a line, or playing with putty. They’ve also acquired a tiny therapy trampoline for him to jump on at home, which is super helpful!
If you found this information helpful and enlightening, stay tuned later this week for specific details on how Felix’s mom keeps her at-home OT supplies organized, how she provides therapy on a super tight budget, and why/how she keeps therapy at the top of her priority list, even when she’s exhausted!
Do any of you have ADHD children/teens in your life who participate in occupational therapy? If so, let me know! We’d love to connect the community of ADHD families.