“It’s difficult for these kids to sit down and focus, [so] we said, ‘OK, why don’t we channel this energy effectively,’ ” said Tom Liniak, who with his wife, Natalie, runs Sports Plus, a nonprofit that holds programs for children with mild autism and ADD/ADHD in Howard and Montgomery counties.
The children who participate in Sports Plus are verbal and can follow multi-step directions, Liniak said, but they usually need the extra attention often missing in typical sports programs.
“All of a sudden they are having fun,” said Liniak, whose 9-year-old son has autism.
Debbie Phelps recently told NBC’s Bob Costas that swimming allowed her son, the Olympic champion who was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, to redirect his energy.
ADHD is a neurobiological disorder characterized by impulsivity, inattention and, in some cases, hyperactivity, according to the Landover-based nonprofit Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
“It is very important to catch it as soon as possible and work with a treatment professional to come up with a treatment plan,” said CHADD spokesman Bryan Goodman.
Playing sports can give structure and limits to children with ADHD, and provide a forum for channeling extra energy, said Dr. Robin Altman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Reading, Pa.
But more than letting them blow off steam, sports can give hyperactive children confidence and skills that can translate into other situations, advocates say.
“If you feel like you are struggling, it helps your self-esteem to have an area where you really excel,” Goodman said.
Sports also have been shown to ease the anxiety and depression symptoms associated with ADHD, according to Brian Kiluk, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at University of Maryland Baltimore County and researcher at Yale School of Medicine who studied the relationship between sports and mood.
Michael Phelps’ stardom has helped call attention to a disorder that affects about 4.4 million youth ages 4 to 17 and may encourage others to seek sports as an outlet.
“It plants the seed of potential and hope in people directly affected,” Liniak said.