One of the key diagnostic features of children with ADHD (especially those whose inattention is combined with hyperactivity) is their inability to sit still in school long enough to learn efficiently. Frequently, their fidgetiness distracts other students from learning as well. Sumathi Reddy reports on new data that shows that kids with ADHD who are allowed to move more in school learn better:

School children with ADHD should be encouraged to fidget in class, two new studies suggest.

The research showed that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder perform better on cognitive tasks when allowed to fidget or move more freely than is typically allowed in many classrooms. The theory: Moving increases their alertness.

“Parents and teachers need to stop telling children [with ADHD] to sit still,” said Julie Schweitzer, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, who was senior author of one of the studies. “We know that some activity can be disruptive to others, but we need to find ways to make it less conspicuous and to integrate socially appropriate ways of moving.”


The researchers discovered that using special chairs allowing greater freedom of movement for children with ADHD resulted in better school performance. The “Howda Chair” (which allows children to rock), the “Hokki Stool” (which allows kids to spin), and “Bouncing Bands” (rubber bungee cords fitted to the base of chairs and desks to allow leg bouncing) were used in the study. Students also had a wide array of “fidget toys” — squishy balls and putty — that occupied their hands while they focused on learning. The researchers also found that students who did not have a diagnosis of ADHD performed worse when they allowed greater movement while using these devices.

While the studies were small, they indicate the need for children to move more during a typical school day. Some kids (ADHD is prevalent in approximately 11% of American schoolchildren) clearly would benefit more than others. Fidgeting, says one of the authors, is a useful and needed focusing tool for children with ADHD:

“We think a lot of this movement has to do with kids’ arousal levels in their brain,” Dr. [Dustin] Sarver said. Certain regions of ADHD children’s brains are less active than those of typically developing children, he said. Physical movement is believed to increase that activity, helping to boost cognitive performance. But allowing typical children to fidget may push their arousal levels outside of an optimal range, he said.


(The “Hokki Stool” — Yahoo!Images)

(Back Pat: Dr. Sarah Kohl)