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Dear ADDitude: What Are Good Accommodations for My Hyperactive and Sensory-Seeking Child?

Some children with ADHD engage in sensory-seeking behaviors, like pushing or pinching, that seem aggressive or antisocial. Experts & readers suggest accommodations that may help.

Q: “At least once a week, my son gets in trouble for intentionally pinching, pushing, or pestering another child. What accommodations could we introduce to stem this type of impulsive, sensory-seeking behavior?”

ADDitude Answers

Our children are often trying to be friendly with their classmates, but they lack the social skills to build friendships. Instead, they alienate other students. I’d ask if he is getting in trouble every day, the same day, or when he is near a particular child. If the pinching or pushing mainly happens with one child, a simple solution is to separate the two students. The teacher may say, “We don’t pinch our friends,” and move him to another place in the classroom. One teacher I know posted a picture of the class standing in line with hands by their sides, saying to the offending student, “This is how we stand in line, hands crossed over our chest.” Or perhaps give him a fidget toy, such as a tangle or friendship bracelet, to keep his hands occupied.

Pinching, pushing, and pestering often occur when children are lining up. If other strategies don’t work, ask the guidance counselor to work with your child to role-play how to stand in line or how to make friends. During role-play, the counselor could say, “OK, I’m getting in line, now you line up behind me. Tell me how you should stand in line. That’s great! You put your hands by your sides.”

The next step is for the child to practice standing in line with his classmates. I would have the teacher use a reward chart; the child gets a checkmark each day he stands in line without pinching or pushing. At the end the week, if he earns five checks, the child could earn a reward such as 10 extra minutes reading or using the computer.

Posted by Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S.
Former educator, school psychologist, and mental health professional with 40 years of experience

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ADDitude Answers

There are lots of ideas for accommodating sensory seekers:

The importance of a “sensory diet” for your child.

How to give your child a sensory break after school.

40 winning accommodations to address common ADHD behaviors.

It sounds like taking him to Occupational Therapy could be a great benefit too (it helped my son tremendously). Your school should be able to write this into his IEP or 504 plan.

Some schools reject students from IEPs or 504s because they’re “too smart,” but IQ and achievement scores are not the only determining factor for IEP eligibility. If your child’s school denies accommodations for your son’s behavioral issues, read up on the process here so you will know when they are feeding you inaccuracies.

[6 Safety Tips for Hyperactive Kids]

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

Does your son have an IEP in place? If so, does he have an OT (Occupational Therapist)? If not, I encourage you to call a meeting to request one. An Occupational Therapist will have many ideas for you.

At this point, I think he needs a place in the room where the teacher can allow him to go and just center himself for a few minutes. If you haven’t talked to her yet I encourage you to introduce yourself to her also.

Posted by kidswriter

A Reader Answers

Aw, he sounds like my son – he’s 7, with combined-type ADHD as well as a language processing disorder. We were certain he had SPD in kindergarten and first grade (he’s in second grade now).

He also was (his behaviors are fading) a MAJOR sensory seeker. He’d run and land on his knees on purpose, chew EVERYTHING he came into contact with, touch everything, be as noisy as he could, bang into things on purpose, etc. None of the kids wanted to play with him at the beginning of first grade because he put everything in his mouth. He ruined more shirts and pencils than I can count. Oh and have I mentioned spinning? He LOVED to spin – stand back!

His teachers provided him with fidget toys, which he didn’t really want to use because none of the other kids did. At home I’d let him chew gum (we went through a lot). I’d also take away his shirt whenever he chewed on the collar. He didn’t like this, and it helped him to focus and try and control his chewing behavior. I bought him a “chewallry” pendant – you can order them online – to give him something safe to chew. Of course he chewed the plastic clasp instead of the pendant and could no longer wear it. Figures!

We have a big back yard which really helps, so he spends a lot of time outside. I’ve also enrolled him in swimming, gymnastics, trampoline, skating, to name a few. He and his sister (with my supervision) did a paper route when he was five. It required tremendous patience on my part because he was constantly dropping fliers and struggling with mailboxes, but it was SO good for him. He lasted almost a year. I was so proud of his determination and persistence.

Gymnastics is also really good. He struggled, let me tell you! With the proprioceptive and vestibular issues, he was not like the other kids. He still has not passed the intro level because he can’t do the rings (they have to be able to flip over with help from the teacher – most kids can do it – not my son). We’ve since switched him to trampoline which avoids the rings issue. He is able to succeed at this and has passed two levels.

Basically, I provided him with as many sensory experiences as I could to help his nervous system develop. His SPD behaviors have lessened quite a bit (but are still present in much smaller doses). I’m not sure if he has a sensory processing developmental delay or the actual disorder (neither our pediatrician nor psychologist diagnosed SPD), but I tell you, from toddlerhood to the summer before second grade he epitomized the sensory-seeking version of it.

Hang in there! I found that it’s easier to give him an outlet for behaviors rather than trying to suppress them.

It also helps if you’re thick skinned – my son used to get into SO much trouble: spinning in line-ups and crashing into other kids at gymnastics, getting out of the pool during a lesson and running away from the life guards, etc. Basically, I didn’t let that deter me from enrolling him in activities, and I was always right there to help (i.e. remove him and talk to him about his behavior) so the other parents didn’t mind – it’s not like he was a wild child left alone to wreak havoc. I also told his gymnastics teachers that he was being assessed for a neurological condition and they changed from being frustrated and resentful to being kind and compassionate.

Posted by OopsForgotAgain

A Reader Answers

We do something called “therapeutic listening” through our OT that’s supposed to help kids who struggle with impulsive sensory-seeking behavior. I LOVE IT. Our daughter can concentrate so much better at school on the program. (Honestly, I believe the therapeutic listening does more or at least as much for her as her ADHD meds do.) I will say that our OT did warn us that the program does not work for everyone. Some people respond to it and others do not.

Our OT has a “lending library.” Basically, we used her headphones and her music for 5 months. (It was supposed to be for 6 weeks, but we have a GREAT OT.) Anyway, since we experienced such success with the program we purchased our own headphones and our OT changes the music each week from her music library. Honestly, there is NO downside, other than it may not work for your child. We can do whatever we want while wearing the therapeutic headphones EXCEPT watch TV, play video games, or play on the computer. Basically, no electronics.

We listen in the morning before school while we are eating breakfast and getting dressed. We listen in the evenings during the first part of homework.

We have not seen monumental changes in our daughter. But, lots of little things have changed for the better. For example, she does not melt as easily. She can focus better. It seems that she can follow instructions easier. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a DO-ALL/BE-ALL super therapy. It is one of the mechanisms we use to cope with her ADHD and SPD. We still go to OT appointments twice a week, we work on writing all the time, we have yarn balls and squishies all over the house, we still use lots of lists and we parent using behavior modification strategies, just to name a few of the things we do.

It is definitely worth a try. I hope that it works for you!

Posted by karen4880

A Reader Answers

This may be sensory-seeking behavior, but it sounds a little bit like aggression. Is your child on medication? Medications for ADHD often cause irritability and the kids become aggressive. My son is 11 and we have tried many of them; the doctor recently added a mood stabilizer to offset the side effects. We are still trying to identify what is the best combination of medications to control his mood disorder and the ADHD. Sometimes ADHD is masked by other conditions. A children psychiatrist can provide more guidance than your pediatrician, so I’d suggest finding a psychiatrist if you haven’t already.

Counseling may also be needed. Hang in there.

Posted by cfh9077

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