Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD) are often interrelated, a dynamic that can be confusing for therapists and parents. Understanding the connection between these two conditions can provide some excellent insights into how a child functions, why they react certain ways, and how to help them thrive.
At Bloom, we are endlessly curious about what makes kids tick, acknowledging that there are often very reasonable, underlying reasons children act out or struggle. We always aim to smooth the road, helping caregivers and parents understand children as best as possible so we all grow. If you are not yet a member of Bloom, learn more here.
What ADHD Looks Like
Children with ADHD have difficulty with attention and focus. The hyperactivity component often manifests physically, with restlessness, compulsive/repetitive movements, and high energy. Many children, consciously or unconsciously, feel ashamed or frustrated that they make adults upset by their lack of self control or attention challenges. The lack of focus doesn’t fit norms, which causes adults in their lives to react harshly to them, compounding their anxiety.
What SPD Looks Like
Hyperactivity has become a maxim for ADHD, but these characteristics can be a symptom of a sensory integration root. A child that is hyperactive, constantly running, jumping and moving around could be struggling with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). They crave sensory information and one way they satiate this need is with movement.
If your child is in constant motion, characterized by impulsive movements, fidgeting, kicking, bouncing, an inability to resist touching/feeling, and similar behaviors, they could be dealing with elements of both ADHD and SPD. Because many of the visible signs overlap, it’s important to dig deeper, considering the underlying physical systems that spur actions like these.
3 Strategies to Treat ADHD and/or SPD Through the Vestibular System
One of the treatment methods for hyperactivity is treating the vestibular system so that eventually they will decrease this sensory need for movement and be able to keep still. Here are three strategies to help those who are vestibular seeking feel satiated sensorily.
- Perform repetitive movements that are different than their usual movements, whether it be rolling, spinning, waving, jumping jacks, running, etc. Increase the duration of the repetitive movement. If you start at 10 minutes a day, increase it to 20 minutes a day.
- Intensify the movement. Instead of just running back and forth or simply jumping, where the body is only in a vertical position, add an ear-to-ear movement like shaking your head. This changes the position of the body’s movement and intensifies it and will more likely satiate the craving.
- Introduce a movement in a completely different plane of the body. For someone who usually keeps vertical and only runs and jumps, as hyperactive children tend to do to keep moving, try one of these fun activities or movement in the horizontal plane:
a) Put pillows and blankets in a pile, or use them to build a tent or fort, and crawl over and under them.
b) Lie on your back on a couch or bed with your head hanging off upside down.
c) Repetitive rolling or somersaults.
By observing your own/child’s movements, you may now understand that their hyperactivity is a symptom of an underlying physical need for movement. Sometimes this is due to ADHD, sometimes it is sensory seeking due to SPD, and sometimes it is a combination of the two.
With this understanding, you have an arsenal of tools and treatments to look into, to provide them with the vestibular input that they need.
Creating Comfort for Children With ADHD and/or SPD
The ultimate need of children with either ADHD or SPD (or both) is the same: a safe place to satisfy what their body wants and needs. If they are constantly told to STOP moving, yet their body is compelled to move, it can be very discouraging.
While we fully acknowledge children do have to slow down or stop at times — whether for safety, because they’re at school, or because it is too distracting/difficult — the goal is to strike a healthy balance. When you get below the surface of a diagnosis, you come to understand your child’s unique makeup, which often includes a variety of needs expressed in different ways.
At Bloom, we’ve created tools to help you decode the needs and desires your child may be unable to explain themselves. The goal is for you to grow in your knowledge and understanding of who your child is, then to have the right resources to support their development.
I’d encourage you to review our course materials on Sensory Processing for in-depth explanations and a host of applicable exercises and tips.This and all of our materials are available to members: Learn more about Bloom membership today.