Movement Helps Children With ADHD Learn
Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are often identified by fidgety movements such as swinging their legs when they become restless and struggle to maintain focus. For years, those movements have been considered problematic symptoms, but a new study shows they may be a beneficial coping mechanism.
The study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, found that allowing children with ADHD to move around enhances their learning abilities and allows the children to retain more information and work through complex cognitive tasks.
The findings could have huge implications for the most common treatment methods for ADHD which often attempt to stifle these types of movements.
“The typical interventions target reducing hyperactivity. It’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing for a majority of children with ADHD,” said one of the study’s authors, Mark Rapport, head of the Children’s Learning Clinic at the University of Central Florida. “The message isn’t ‘Let them run around the room,’ but you need to be able to facilitate their movement so they can maintain the level of alertness necessary for cognitive activities.”
The researchers say the findings should lead to more opportunities for children with the disorder to be active without being disruptive in classrooms, for example by allowing the students to sit on activity balls or exercise bikes while working.
For the study, the researchers evaluated 52 boys between the ages of 8 and 12. Of that group, 29 had been diagnosed with ADHD, while the other 23 showed no signs of clinical disorders or abnormal development.
All the children participating in the study underwent a series of standardized tests designed to test “working memory”, which works to temporarily store and manage information needed for carrying out complex cognitive tasks including learning, reasoning, and comprehension.
The tests asked the children to view a series of jumbled numbers and letters that flashed onto a computer screen, then organize the numbers in order, followed by organizing the letters. While the participants completed the task, a high-speed camera recorded the children and observers noted their movement and attention to the task.
Rapport’s previous research has shown that excessive movement in hyperactive children is primarily exhibited when they need to use the brain’s executive functions. Pulling from these findings, the new study found those movements also have purpose.
“What we’ve found is that when they’re moving the most, the majority of them perform better,” Rapport said. “They have to move to maintain alertness.”
In comparison, the children without ADHD also moved during the testing periods, but performed worse.