The Expert of Everyday Stuff

Who can help ADHD kids master the business of day-to-day life? The occupational therapist: a professional trained to teach motor skills, organization, and planning.

Untied, neon green shoelaces. Teaching life skills to ADHD children.

My daughter loses everything: her cell phone, glasses, backpack, and lunch money.

— Terry Matlen

Does your child have illegible handwriting? Is his backpack disorganized? Does she still have a hard time tying her shoes? Children with ADHD typically struggle with these problems at home and in school, and well-meaning parents don't have the time or skills to deal with all of them. There is one person, however, who can fill in when you can't — the occupational therapist.

OTs are professionals who work with people of all ages to improve fine motor coordination, disorganization (by strengthening executive function skills), hypersensitivities, and other problems of daily life. OT services are provided through schools, outpatient health facilities, or private practice.

My daughter loses everything: her cell phone, glasses, backpack, and lunch money. Her handwriting was, developmentally, years behind that of her peers. When she was a younger student, no one would sit next to her at lunch, because she couldn't keep her food on her plate.

OT to the Rescue

We hired an occupational therapist, who helped her develop time management skills, organizing strategies, and more. Moving from one activity or class to another was hard for her, so the OT consulted with my daughter's teacher, who drew up a daily schedule and tacked it on the wall. My daughter checked the schedule several times a day and knew what activities she had to be prepared for.

An OT can also help an ADHD student break down tasks, so that he can be successful at finishing projects. Many children with ADHD can't figure out how to get from A to B.

A big challenge for students with ADHD is keeping their binders, notebooks, and backpacks organized. My daughter's OT worked with the classroom teacher to prompt her to check her backpack to ensure that everything that needed to go home was in there. The OT set up a schedule for my daughter and her teacher to clean out her locker and organize her backpack. Eventually, my daughter did it on her own.

Is my daughter's bedroom tidy? Does she always remember her lunch money? No, but she has integrated many of the skills she learned from working with an OT. These days she is a happier, more capable person.

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This article appears in the Spring 2013 issue of ADDitude.
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