Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Play Therapy

‘Attention deficit disorder’ (ADD) and ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’ (ADHD) seem to be more and more common in children nowadays. Both disorders are serious medical conditions that can cause a lot of upset for the children experiencing them and also their parents who are trying to manage the behaviours that are caused by these disorders. Play therapy is an effective treatment for the emotional and behavioural issues that often coincide with these disorders.

Children with ADD have extreme problems paying attention:

  • They may find it really hard to pay attention during conversations, while reading, or doing stationary activities
  • They may seem like they don’t listen a lot of the time
  • They might find it really hard to finish activities like home work and chores
  • They may make lots of mistakes with school work
  • They might lose things constantly


Children with ADHD have some of the problems listed above, but also have trouble slowing down and being still:

  • They might fidget a lot, tap their hands and feet constantly, or squirm in their seat
  • They may often leave their seat in situations where they are supposed to stay seated, like in the classroom
  • They might run and climb in situations where it is not appropriate
  • Thy might seem like they have a motor inside them because they’re always on the go
  • They might talk a lot, blurt out answers before a question has been completed and may often interrupt conversations.
  • Although lots of children may have trouble with some of these symptoms, in children who are diagnosed, the behaviours are extreme and cause a lot of difficulty every day.


What you can do to help

If you think your child may have ADD or ADHD, visit your child’s GP and request a referral to a paediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist for assessment. In conjunction with your chosen specialist, develop a plan to manage your child’s attention and/or hyperactivity difficulties.

See this article for some great tips on managing ADHD

Play Therapy for Children with ADD and ADHD

While Play Therapy cannot ‘cure’ ADD or ADHD it can be used as a very successful intervention before diagnosis, to rule out an ADD/ADHD diagnosis or determine if the child’s symptoms will pass, are caused by developmental delays, or are influenced by their environment such as adjustment issues.

For children with a confirmed ADD/ADHD diagnosis Play Therapy can be a highly effective adjunct treatment. It can help children overcome emotional issues that commonly occur with ADD/ADHD such as:

  • Strengthening their ability to cope with emotion, such as angry outbursts
  • Help them become more receptive to limit setting
  • Increase self-esteem and confidence
  • Increase self-responsibility for actions
  • Aids other concurrent issues such as anxiety and depression.


Further Information

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – General overview of the disorder in children

ADHD and Play Therapy – Article on a parent’s view of how play therapy helped her daughter

Christine Harkin
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