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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Any kind of stressful circumstances can worsen the symptoms of ADHD. As a result, lifestyle changes are an important part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Improvements in your child’s environment, brought about by behavioral therapy, can reduce symptoms a great deal. Because most cases of ADHD are diagnosed in childhood, many of these lifestyle changes are geared toward helping parents help their children cope with ADHD.

The following recommendations all have the same objective: reduction of stress and distractions to help focus your child’s attention. Children and adults with ADHD are more sensitive to these stressors than the average person.

General Guidelines for Managing ADHD

At School or Place of Employment
  • Modify the environment in an effort to reduce distractions:
    • Sitting on a Disc 'O' Sit cushion may help improve your child's attention in class. The Disc 'O' Sit is a dome-shaped cushion filled with air that requires the child to maintain proper balance.
  • Decrease noise and clutter.
  • Provide clear instructions, preferably written.
  • Focus on success. Reward your child’s progress and reinforce positive behavior.
  • Help your child get organized with checklists and reminders.
  • Encourage impulse control.
  • Encourage your child to do things he or she is good at.
  • Do not require your child to perform difficult tasks in public.
  • Encourage active learning, such as underlining, note taking, or reading aloud.
  • Break big jobs down into small tasks.

Some research has shown that behaviors like fidgeting, pencil tapping, and constant movement in adolescents may serve a distinct brain function and help ADHD kids stay alert and on task. Some teachers and schools may take a different approach and allow children to move and fidget in a quiet manner (such as squeeze a ball or stand at the back of the room with work).

At Home
  • All guidelines for school and the workplace apply to the home environment, as well.
  • Address family tensions such as spousal conflicts, alcoholism, addiction, and sibling rivalry.
  • Create order, structure, and routine in the home. There is comfort in knowing what is going to happen and that things are where they belong.
  • Provide nourishing meals.
  • If you smoke, quit.
Professional Help
  • A family doctor should monitor your child’s treatment to detect and treat any problems.
  • A school or employment counselor may be helpful in making alternate educational or work arrangements.
  • Mental health professionals can teach coping skills to help reduce stress and deal with emotional and social problems.
  • Specially trained ADHD coaches are available to help provide structure, tools, and strategies. Coaches may specialize in working with children, adolescents, or adults.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Talk to your family doctor or a mental health professional if symptoms worsen or you need help addressing these lifestyle changes.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Kari Kassir, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2013 -
  • Update Date: 09/30/2013 -
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  • 4/30/2008 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamicmedical.com/what.php: Pfeiffer B, Henry A, et al. Effectiveness of Disc 'O' Sit cushions on attention to task in second-grade students with attention difficulties. Am J Occup Ther. 2008;62:274-281.