ADHD + Sensory Difficulties

We think we know about ADHD.

We know our children can be impulsive, hyperactive and inattentive. We know they may have poor executive function skills. There may also be poor social and communication skills and they will be lagging behind their peers emotionally.

Is that all?

Possibly not.

Because we also know that our children may also have sensory difficulties.

But what does this look like and how does it affect day-to-day life and behaviour? Let’s look at each of the five senses:


Your child may be super sensitive to noise. They are distracted by a buzzing light, a motor bike in the distance, or the low whine of a fan.

Or they may be overwhelmed with loud bangs or too much echo in the dinner hall. Busy supermarkets may have too much noise with trolleys, chatter and loud speakers. Thunderstorms and car alarms may really terrify your child.

Your child cannot always articulate or understand why their tummy feels funny and may react aggressively or undesirably

How you can help:

If your child is overwhelmed, remove them from the situation as soon as possible. Teach your child self-soothing techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness. Introduce loud noises slowly and in safe and fun ways – dance to music, banging spoons, shaking tins of lentils.

If distracted, softly call your child back in by calling their name or a gentle touch. Do not get cross.


Your child may be super sensitive to smells. My son is able to identify from 50m what perfume a woman is wearing. Your child may able to detect smells that other people do not notice.

However this sensitivity to smell can be overwhelming. They find it tricky to work out which smell they should be paying attention to. In a busy shopping centre the smells can be too much and your child may react by screaming, shouting and falling to the floor.

How you can help:

Help your child by explaining why they feel overwhelmed. Their brain is trying to make sense of the stimuli in the environment but sometimes the brain cannot filter out what it should focus on. There are too many smells.


Your child may not like certain textures or simply the taste of food. They may need to eat the same food as this is safe and predictable. They may not like their teeth brushed or swallowing a pill. The temperature may not be right and they may dislike hearing themselves chew.

How you can help:

As much as you can introduce different textures. Use fun food plates that are motivating and arrange the food to make your child smile. Role model eating and don’t worry about using cutlery – if they are more comfortable eating with their hands then that is okay for now.

Investigate the foods that your child is comfortable with and try and replicate them. For example if they like the texture and crunch of an apple, try pears and carrots. If they prefer smoothness of custard, try pureed soup.

Don’t make an issue and force your child to eat. This may create a bad relationship with food. As long as they are getting enough calories and vital vitamins, then just take it slow and keep trying new ideas.


Your child may not like the feel of certain textures like standing on the grass or the sand. They may not like the feel of tight clothing, zips or buttons. They may not like the feel of hair wash or soap on their skin so bathtime is a disaster. Playing with dough, touching glue or finger painting is extremely traumatic. The sheets in the bed may be itchy and so sleep is disturbed. They may be too hot or too cold.

Similarly your child may seek to touch. So there is a strong need to prod, poke and examine everything. They may desire strong hugs and deep pressure like a weighted blanket. But can hug others too tight and push harder than needed.

How you can help:

If your child needs pressure, then stretch and push against the wall. Carry heavy boxes or bags of shopping and get your child to pull yoga bands.

Gently introduce the things they don’t like but do not insist if they find it overwhelming. This needs to be small steps like a small sand tray with some favourite toys hidden. Put shaving foam on a tray and have fun drawing shapes. Wear clothes that do not have labels, zips or rough seams. Ensure the bed sheets are comfortable.

Experiment to brush hair or teeth with a hard brush rather than soft strokes as this may tickle and feel unpleasant. Introduce chewy toys to encourage the sensation of brushing teeth.

Your child needs to retrain their brain to understand that this sense is tolerable.


Your child can be completely overwhelmed by too much movement in the environment. Crowds are tricky and your child may react negatively. Too many colours, shapes, patterns that distract and are confusing. The light may be too bright and the colours too vivid.

How you can help:

Give your child an understanding of why they feel like this. Show your child how to overcome difficulties and enable them to self-soothe and remove themselves from a difficult situation. Empower your child with the language so they can explain when they are not feeling okay and need some time or space to calm down.



As well as these five senses, there are the senses of proprioception and vestibular. Proprioception is the sense of knowing where your body is in space and how much effort is needed. Whilst vestibular is the sense of knowing where your body is in terms of gravity, movement and balance.

So your child may also have difficulties bumping into things, needing to be leaning against a table leg rather than sitting in a vacuous space or having difficulty with handwriting.

If you think your child has a sensory difficulty and it is a problem in their day-to-day life, then you may want to seek further professional help. You will need to find a specialist Occupational Therapist such as Leap Children’s Therapy

Your child will be given an assessment and a ‘sensory diet’ will be recommended.



My offer to you

I interviewed an OT Nicci Paine from Leap Children’s Therapy exclusively for members of our Together Stronger Club.

In this interview, Nicci shared how we can help our children with sensory difficulties, what to look for and what happens in an assessment. She shared how she helps children manage at school. Great expert advice from an expert OT.

This is a fantastic membership that gives members: weekly coaching, ADHD training and interviews with ADHD experts and professionals, support and exclusive resources.


I’d love you to join our membership.

Check out this offer for just £1 for 30 days