#275 - Alternative Strategies for ADHD with Dr. David Nowell

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC September 27, 2023

#275 - Alternative Strategies for ADHD with Dr. David Nowell

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Alternative Strategies for ADHD with Dr. David Nowell

David D. Nowell, Ph.D. is a clinical neuropsychologist in private practice in Northborough, Massachusetts. He offers consultations to patients on an inpatient rehabilitation unit and is an adjunct instructor in neuropsychology to graduate students in the Clark University psychology program.

Dr. Nowell speaks internationally to clinicians on such topics as executive functioning and non-medication management of ADHD. He is passionate about motivation and deep happiness and helping his clients distinguish the essential from non-essential in their lives. When he’s out of the office, you’ll probably find him exploring the outdoors.


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Alternative Strategies For Adhd With Dr David Nowell

Dr. David Nowell is a renowned clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct instructor in neuropsychology at Clark University. As a sought-after speaker, he captivates audiences worldwide with insights on executive functioning, ADHD management, and his unwavering dedication to motivation and happiness.

Understanding ADHD

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition affecting individuals of all ages. It is characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Additionally, ADHD may manifest differently in children and adults. In children, it can present as challenges with focus, organization, and completing tasks, and in adults, restlessness and difficulties with time management may be more prominent.

Studies have revealed that people with ADHD exhibit distinct structural and functional disparities in their brains, specifically in regions associated with attention and self-control. These neurobiological variances can pose difficulties for individuals with ADHD when functioning effectively in certain circumstances.

Sensory Challenges Or ADHD?

Individuals with ADHD may encounter challenges in processing sensory information, which can significantly affect their daily lives. This can manifest as either overstimulation or under-stimulation of specific senses, resulting in difficulties with concentration and self-regulation.

Common sensory difficulties experienced by those with ADHD encompass heightened sensitivity to noise, touch, and visual stimuli. However, it is crucial to recognize that the child might encounter difficulties in executive functioning, leading to challenges in attention, organization, and initiating tasks.

As a result, the child could struggle to maintain attention or become overwhelmed by sensory stimuli. In reality, it manifests executive functioning difficulties and not just sensory challenges.


Approaches To Managing ADHD

Dr. Nowell believes a comprehensive approach to managing ADHD should address top-down and bottom-up thinking processes.

  • Top Down: Sustaining concentration, actively engaging with tasks, and aligning decisions with long-term goals.
  • Bottom Up: The way the brain processes auditory and sensory stimuli.

To achieve optimal outcomes in managing ADHD, it is crucial to address both of these cognitive processes. This may involve implementing various strategies, such as practicing mindfulness exercises, establishing structured routines, and utilizing sensory tools to regulate the environment for individuals with ADHD.


Supporting Parents With A New Diagnosis

Receiving a new diagnosis often brings forth a wave of grief. This profound emotion can impact both individuals and their parents as they grapple with the contrast between their aspirations for their child's life and the current reality they find themselves in.

Parents may have had high hopes or, conversely, they might have accurately predicted that the upcoming school years would be more challenging than anticipated. However, it is crucial to understand that a diagnosis of ADHD does not define the child or their future.

Parents can support their children by educating themselves and taking an empathetic approach to understanding their struggles. Ultimately, with patience and perseverance, individuals with ADHD can thrive and lead successful lives with the proper support and strategies.


The Impact of Late Diagnosis In Adults

For adults and late adolescents, the timing of an ADHD diagnosis can make a significant difference. The later the diagnosis, the more likely you have already developed your informal understanding of this distinction.

A diagnosis of ADHD can bring about a profound sense of clarity, providing a deeper understanding of how your brain functions. It opens doors to finding your community and fosters greater empathy and self-awareness.

This newfound awareness may prompt you to ponder whether earlier intervention could have enhanced academic performance, athletic prowess, or even the preservation of your first relationship. It is vital to allow yourself the opportunity to grieve this realization, as it signifies a significant deviation.


ADHD In Women And Girls

ADHD often remains undetected or overlooked unless the symptoms are glaringly obvious or align with the stereotypical hyperactive presentation. Interestingly, the inattentive subtype is more frequently observed in girls and women.

As a result, young girls may be wrongly misdiagnosed or even dismissed by teachers and doctors as being "daydreamers" or lacking motivation. This can leave girls and women struggling to understand their difficulties and feeling like they do not fit into the mold of acceptable behavior.

Parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals must be aware of these gender differences in ADHD presentation and ensure that individuals are given proper support and resources regardless of gender.


5 Effective Strategies For Managing ADHD

Dr. Nowell introduces a fascinating mnemonic, SPECT, which provides valuable support for individuals with ADHD. SPECT encompasses the fundamental elements of Sleep, Protein, Exercise, Calendar, and Team, which collectively contribute to these individuals' overall well-being and success.


It is crucial to take the initiative to inquire about their sleep patterns, particularly the child's bedtime routine. Establishing a structured and consistent bedtime can significantly impact children with ADHD, as sleep is crucial to their overall functioning.


Incorporating protein-rich foods into meals and snacks can help maintain stable blood sugar levels. This helps regulate energy levels, which can be especially beneficial for individuals with ADHD who may experience frequent fluctuations in energy throughout the day.


Physical activity is crucial in regulating dopamine levels and improving executive functioning, making it essential to managing ADHD. It can also provide an outlet for excess energy and improve mood.


Individuals with ADHD often struggle with time management and organization. Utilizing calendars, planners, or other visual aids can help them stay on track and manage their responsibilities effectively.


As Dr. Nowell emphasizes, having a supportive team of professionals can make all the difference in managing ADHD. Whether it be therapists, teachers, or doctors, collaborating with a team that understands and supports the individual's needs can improve outcomes.


Final Thoughts

Managing ADHD is a multifaceted process that involves understanding the underlying cognitive difficulties, providing support and resources, and implementing effective strategies. With the right approach and support, individuals with ADHD can lead successful and fulfilling lives.

As Dr. Nowell reminds us, "ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis, and no two individuals with ADHD are the same." By acknowledging and addressing these individual differences, we can help individuals with ADHD thrive.




While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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