Over the past 20 years, I have worked with countless children with ADHD, almost all of them showing up in my OT room because of handwriting or “sensory” issues. These students were usually bright, engaging and made rapid and significant progress in our therapy sessions. I was so proud of their gains, however the gains never seemed to generalize back to the classroom. AT ALL.
My students knew everything I showed them, they had the skills, they were engaged and motivated within our sessions, why did they continue to struggle in the classroom day after day, year after year? I was baffled.
I would give teachers and parents lists of ADHD strategies, provide equipment and home and classroom incentive programs. Nothing worked.
I felt useless as I watched these wonderful kids slowly lose their shine. They began to hate school and displayed increasing behavior problems. It was torture to see them labeled as lazy, noncompliant “ behavior” students that just needed to try harder.
I felt powerless thinking “OT’s can’t treat attention problems”. While I easily understood these children, I did not fully understand ADHD.
One day while reading an article written by a well-known ADHD researcher, I came across this statement.
“Disorders like ADHD pose great consternation for the mental health and educational arenas of service because they create disorders mainly of performance rather than knowledge or skills. Mental health and education professionals are more experts at conveying knowledge – how to change; far fewer are experts in ways to engineer environments to facilitate performance – where and when to change. “Russell Barkley
I was mind blown! He is talking about occupational therapy. We are the “experts in engineering environments to facilitate performance”. That’s what OT’s do!
My mindset completely changed, I was empowered. I became determined to read, research and take every course and training I possibly could about ADHD. I needed to learn how to engineer our school environment to facilitate performance for students with ADHD.
With a renewed understanding that ADHD is a disorder of occupational performance, my entire school-based practice transformed. I began working collaboratively with the teachers , supporting the teachers on behalf of my students and scaffolding supports at the point of performance. I spent less time pulling the student from the classroom and more time supporting the teacher and the student in the classroom. The difference in my students’ classroom performance was remarkable.
Today, I provide school-based occupational therapists with actionable evidence-based interventions that can empower our general education classroom teacher and facilitate sustainable classroom occupational performance for students with ADHD.
Stick around, I am just getting started!
Lori Flynn is a practicing school based occupational therapist with over 20 years experience. She is a certified clinical ADHD rehabilitation provider, ADHD parent coach , ADHD parent, and has 46 years of lived ADHD experience.