Experts estimate the incidence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the general population to be between three and 20 percent depending on where and how the studies are conducted. While medication has proven to be helpful in some cases, there are other ways to help kids with ADHD to increase their focus and concentration. In fact, particular extra-curricular activities can markedly improve a child’s ability to pay attention.
One activity that seems to help boost the confidence and focusing ability of ADHD kids is the practice of yoga. Sherry LeBlanc, who is the director of Yoga 4 Kids in Toronto, has had a lot of experience working with children with ADHD. She is a licensed practitioner of Yoga for the Special Child — a yoga therapy designed to help kids with developmental and learning difficulties. The technique includes music and sound, breathing exercises, yoga poses and deep relaxation.
Meditation helps her students to “tune into a quieter, more grounded and less agitated self.” Yoga is all about achieving balance between mind, body and spirit, LeBlanc explains. “I focus on the whole child and their abilities, rather then center on the diagnosis,” she adds. She has found that ADHD kids benefit from taking a series of private classes before they join a group class and notes that these students become calmer and their ability to focus increases.
Dr. Maggie Toplak, a professor in the psychology department of York University and associate member of the LaMarch Centre for Research and Conflict Resolution, stresses the importance of recognizing the variability in interest and ability among children who have been diagnosed with ADHD. She suggests that going with your child’s natural abilities and interests is always a good start when selecting after-school activities. “Parents should follow the interests of their kids and help them find things that they are good at,” she says.
Teaching others to cope with ADHD
While Dr. Toplak acknowledges that some ADHD kids have problems playing team sports because their peers become frustrated when they become distracted, she points out that there are kids with ADHD who excel at team sports perhaps because they are passionate about them or because they’re naturally gifted. As we can all attest, it is easier to focus on things that interest us. According to Dr. Toplak, routine is also helpful, which is why solitary activities such as dance, swimming or karate — where there is no direct competition with others can be so beneficial.
Research has shown martial arts to be of potentially great benefit to kids who struggle with ADHD. The physical demands of the classes help hyperactive children to channel their energy in a positive way. Richard Verlaan, founder of The York Academy of Martial Arts in Toronto, points out that his programs help kids to improve their self-esteem and their self-awareness.
The coloured belt reward system, with its usual hierarchy of yellow, orange, blue, green, brown and black belts, acts as a great positive reinforcement tool for kids. Verlaan says, “ It doesn’t hurt that there are cool-looking instructors who role model positive character development and appropriate behaviour.” Richard Verlaan has seen many children exceed expectations through his program. “In most cases drug doses are reduced and grades and overall at-school experiences improve,” he says.
Debbie Markle confirms the positive effects of martial arts training. Not only has it immeasurably helped her two children who have ADD, but the practice has influenced the whole family to the point that both of her children now have Black Belts, and she herself has become a second-degree Black Belt instructor with Northern Karate School at the Don Mills location. Her son, Chris, began to train at age nine, in an effort to deal with being bullied at school. “He was meeting with success after success instead of failure after failure…his focus dramatically improved from day one,” she says. In addition, his self-esteem and confidence improved and his teachers saw a marked improvement in his concentration, focus and ability to stay on task. Stephanie, her daughter, who began training at age five, saw similar scholastic improvements.
ADHD Coach, LouAnne Babcook, emphasizes the importance of making sure that the teachers or leaders of the activity you have chosen have positive attitudes and are able to focus on your child’s gifts and potential, rather than just the challenges. She also stresses that ADHD kids need lots of physical activity. “These kids have energy to burn. Turn off the TV, video games and computers and get them moving.” But don’t forget the creative pursuits as well. “Given that they are often highly creative, engage them in a creative pursuit such as art, theatre, woodworking or music,” says Babcook.
Finally, we must remember to get outside help when needed. Dr. Atilla Turgay, Director of the AHDH Clinic, Training and Research Institute at Scarborough Hospital, recommends that families work with their local ADHD professional services such as the Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance (caddra.ca) to develop effective strategies for dealing with your child’s particular needs and issues.