Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

March 8, 2024

ADHD and Physical Therapy

ADHD And Physical Therapy

By: Scott Harvey, MPT

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can impact daily functioning and development.

Physical therapy is often a beneficial intervention for children with ADHD, by keeping them active, creating healthy habits, and implementing individualized exercise programs. Physical therapy may also address specific issues like visual integration, balance, core strength, and primitive reflex integration through movement-based therapies.

Physical therapy, when tailored to the individual needs of a person with ADHD, can play a supportive role in managing symptoms and improving overall well-being. The following are examples of how physical therapy can help:

  • Physical activity: Regular physical activity has been shown to have positive effects on attention, mood, and overall health. PTs can design exercise programs that suit the individual’s needs and preferences, and promoting overall health.
  • Healthy habits: Physical therapists can work with individuals to establish and maintain healthy habits. This may include guidance on sleep hygiene, nutrition, and other lifestyle factors that can impact attention and overall well-being.
  • Sensory input: providing sensory input is essential for individuals who may benefit from it. PT interventions can include activities that offer the necessary sensory input, contributing to improved focus and self-regulation.
  • Visual integration: Addressing visual integration challenges through targeted exercises can enhance the ability to focus on tasks that require visual attention, such as reading and writing.
  • Balance and core strength: working on balance and core strength can help individuals maintain proper posture and stay seated comfortably, which is essential for sustained attention in a classroom setting.
  • Primitive reflex integration: Certain reflexes which are crucial for infant survival, should naturally integrate (go away) during the first 2-3 years of life. However, in some cases, this integration might not occur as expected, leading to various challenges like poor focus, incontinence, and emotional issues. Studies suggest that many with ADHD have retained reflexes, like the symmetrical tonic neck reflex in boys and the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex in girls [1]. PTs can use specific movements to facilitate the integration of these reflexes. Addressing these reflexes through movement-based interventions may contribute to improved motor control and coordination, which can have positive effects on attention and behavior.

An interdisciplinary approach, involving collaboration between physical therapists, occupational therapists, educators, and other professionals, can provide a comprehensive and holistic strategy for managing ADHD. And it’s encouraging to see that more and more children nowadays are receiving such interdisciplinary services to address their unique needs.

Reference: [1] Bob, Petr et al. “Disinhibition of Primitive Reflexes in Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder: Insight Into Specific Mechanisms in Girls and Boys.” Frontiers in psychiatry vol. 12 430685. 8 Nov. 2021, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.430685