The Difference Between Sensory Processing Issues and ADHD
Constantly fidgeting and squirming. Invading personal space. Melting down in public. These can be signs of both
sensory processing issues. While they’re different issues, they have some overlap and can occur together. This table breaks down some of the key differences between ADHD and sensory processing issues.
Trouble following social rules can make it hard to make and keep friends. Frequent negative feedback for acting out or not paying attention can impact self-esteem and motivation, making a child feel he’s “bad” or “no good.”
Feeling anxious in or avoiding crowded and noisy places can make it hard to socialize. Peers may avoid or exclude an undersensitive child because he plays too roughly or doesn’t respect their personal space.
Professionals who can help
Pediatricians, developmental-behavioral pediatricians, nurse practitioners, child psychiatrists: Diagnose ADHD and prescribe ADHD medication. Psychiatrists will look for other issues like anxiety.
Clinical child psychologists: Provide behavior therapy to teach kids skills to manage their actions and interactions. Provide cognitive behavioral therapy to help with emotional issues related to their ADHD. Diagnose ADHD and mental health issues that may co-occur, such as anxiety. May also evaluate for learning differences.
Pediatric neuropsychologists: Diagnose ADHD and common mental health issues that may co-occur, such as anxiety. May also evaluate for learning differences.
Clinical child psychologists: Provide behavior therapy to teach kids skills to manage their actions and interactions. Provide cognitive behavioral therapy to help with emotional issues related to their sensory processing issues. Diagnose ADHD and mental health issues that may co-occur with sensory processing issues. May also evaluate for learning differences.
Developmental-behavioral pediatricians: Prescribe medication for anxiety to relieve panic responses.
Extended time on tests, including standardized tests
A seat close to the teacher and away from distractions
A larger, more private work space to get work accomplished
A signal, nonverbal cue or picture card to get the child’s attention
Long assignments broken into smaller chunks
Worksheets with fewer questions
Written or picture schedules for daily activities
Accommodations and/or occupational therapy, under a 504 plan or an IEP. Child might be eligible for an IEP under the category of “other health impairment,” especially if he also has ADHD. Examples of accommodations might include:
A seat away from distracting sources of noise
Physical activity to help regulate emotions, behavior and need for movement
Noise-canceling headphones or ear buds to reduce stimulation in busy places like assemblies
A chair that is a good fit for him so he can put his feet flat on the floor and rest his elbows on the desk
An inflated cushion or pillow so he can both squirm and stay in his seat
What you can do at home
Set rules and stick to them to help your child think before acting.
Create daily routines and rituals to provide structure.
Break tasks into smaller chunks.
Use visual prompts like checklists, visual schedules and sticky notes to help your child focus, stay organized and get things done.