ADHD, Autism Spectrum and Sensory Processing Disorders

Embracing Neurodiversity and understanding the unique way each child seeks regulation, support and connection.

Photo by  Evie Shaffer  on  Unsplash

Maybe you’re a veteran parent who is used to IEP goals, speech therapy, OT, and fighting for your child’s social and emotional needs in the school, and who knows exactly what diagnosis fits your child. Or maybe you’ve just started wondering: Why is regulation so hard for my child? Why isn’t she sleeping? Is my child on the autism spectrum? Why isn’t she talking? The teachers call him a loner, but is that unhealthy? Many parents wonder these questions, because children don’t come with handbooks and often behave in ways that scare or confuse us! Symptoms don’t always necessarily indicate a developmental difference like ASD or ADHD, but it’s healthy to listen to your instincts and seek professional assessments if you are asking questions like this!

I love working with families as a vital member of their child’s care team. I can’t wait to meet with you to hear more of your story, and help create a comprehensive care plan for your child!

Symptoms of ADHD

The following symptoms occurring in more than one setting, for example at home and at school:


  1. Difficulty paying close attention

  2. Makes careless mistakes in school, at work, during other activities, overlooks details

  3. Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks, play, or reading

  4. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly, absentminded

  5. Often does not follow through on instructions

  6. Difficulty organizing tasks and activities, planning ahead, keeping belongings in order

  7. Avoids dislikes or doesn’t want to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort

  8. Often loses items necessary for tasks (keys, wallet, books, pencils, glasses)

  9. Is often distracted by extraneous stimuli, forgetful in daily activities like doing chores


  1. Often fidgets, taps hands or feet, squirms and wiggles in seat

  2. leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected (like in class, at dinner table), runs, climbs in situations where it’s inappropriate

  3. Unable to play quietly

  4. often “on the go” or “as if driven by a motor”

  5. Often talks excessively

  6. Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed, has difficulty waiting turn, often interrupts or intrudes on others

**Please note that the American Academy of Pediatrics states that ADHD must be diagnosed by a medical professional such as a physician, psychiatrist, or pediatrician. It is important to consider whether the following symptoms are occurring in most settings, and to ask other parents, teachers, and caregivers their impressions of the child as well. Since ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, it is not to be taken lightly as a diagnosis.

Types of Treatment for ADHD

The American Academy of Pediatrics  (2011) acknowledges that inappropriate diagnosis of ADHD may cause children to receive treatments they do not need, or may cause another condition to be missed. Best practice for diagnosis include an evaluation for all children ages 4-18 who present with inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity  and adherence to DSM-V criteria, consideration of the DSM-PC. Providers should administer a rating scale such as the Connors Comprehensive Behavior Rating Scales and the ADHD Rating Scale IV, and obtain behavior reports from parents, teachers, or adolescent child (2011, p. 7). It is important to note that mood and neurological disorders often co-occur with this diagnosis and that the primary care provider should be trained to recognize this and make appropriate referrals. For treatment of children 4-18 years of age the AAP recommends “evidence-based behavior therapy” administered by a parent or teacher and to administer methylphenidate “if the behavior interventions do not provide significant improvement” (p. 2). Typically, preschool-age children who meet criteria are referred to programs such as Head Start or Early Childhood Special Education services in the community, while some physicians will recommend parent training programs. The AAP does advise the PCP or clinician to weigh the risks of prescribing medication at preschool age. For all ages, the organization also recommends medication management to achieve maximum benefits (p.4).

The AAP admits that there is a limitation of mental health resources for children with ADHD.

One of my hopes as a counselor is to use my experience to fill the gap through working to assist children in understanding brain and body, individual differences that come along with ADHD, address self-esteem, peer relationships, and symptom reduction through relationship-based mental health treatment that builds and rewires the brain from the bottom up!

If you have tried behavioral therapy and medication, and are feeling like something is missing, seeking support for your child through a neuro-relational counseling framework could be what you’re looking for!

What we know about Children and ADHD

ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders among children and adolescents. Limberg, et. al (2018) cite the National Survey of Children’s Health, stating that one in eleven school-age children in the United States had an ADHD diagnosis in 2011. Prevalence rates of ADHD are 5% internationally according to Tatlow-Golden, et al. (2016) and to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (2013). Tatlow-Golden’s study on practitioner knowledge also shows a gap in training and a need for increased collaboration between providers and family members.

ADHD is associated with increased teacher stress and classroom disruption. Children with ADHD often experience peer rejection, academic struggles, and some experience anxiety and depression as well as an association with a “greater initial exposure at a young age to substance useand slightly faster progression” (Molina, et. al, 2018). Neurological anomalies are also present in children with this diagnosis.

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Relating and emotion

  • a tendency to avoid interaction; difficulty paying attention to

  • or making eye contact with others

  • repetitive statements, play, or behaviors

  • failure to develop pretend play

  • intense fears about ordinary objects, activities or events


  • problems following simple directions

  • echolalia, or repeating what has just been said

  • difficulty making needs and desires known by gestures, words or play

Regulatory and sensory-motor

  • difficulty dealing with changes in environment

  • avoidance of hugs or light touch

  • does not point to show you things

  • poor coordination

  • “self-stimulatory” behaviors: spinning, hand flapping, head banging


What is autism? What are some common autistic traits? Is autism a disability? How can I help accommodate autistic people? How should I treat autistic people? Answers to all of these questions and more in this episode of Ask an Autistic! Related videos: What is Stimming? What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Types of Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder

National Research Council (2001) suggests

  1. Education and Support: this includes specialized therapies such as Speech Therapy, Developmental Relationship-Based Therapies, Applied Behavioral Analysis, DIR/Floortime, Denver Model.

  2. Support through providing individually tailored environments that support child’s differences

  3. Education and Support for Caregivers

    What we know about Children and Autism Spectrum Disorder

    A global disorder that affects the entire brain and how the brain processes the information it receives

    Difficulty taking in sensory information, processing sensory information, and/or executing a response (trouble using body).

    Affects the following: Sensory System, Motor System, Visual Attention, Executive Functioning, Theory of Mind.

    Early Interventions are key in outcomes

Why does my child repeat what I just said? What is echolalia? Does my child engage in echolalia? Are there different kinds of echolalia? Why do autistic people engage in echolalia? Answers to all of these questions and more in this week's episode of Ask an Autistic!

Check out my page on Neurodiversity resources!