Kids with ADHD need to move in order to learn, research reveals

Forcing them to stay still is counterproductive.

Children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) are always being told to sit still and concentrate, but new research has revealed that they actually need to move in order to learn.

In fact, small movements such as fidgeting, squirming, leg-swinging, foot-tapping and chair-scuffling may be vital to remembering information and working out complex tasks. The new research contradicts the long-term guidelines for how to deal with children with ADHD, and suggests that incorporating things such as activity balls or treadmill desks to the classroom could help certain students perform better.

“The typical interventions target reducing hyperactivity. It’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing for a majority of children with ADHD,” one of the researchers Mark Rapport, from the University of Central Florida, said in a press release. “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 came to this conclusion after looking at 52 boys aged between eight and 12. Of these, 29 had been diagnosed with ADHD, while the other 23 had no known developmental disorders. The participants’ movements were filmed while they completed complex cognitive tasks that tested their “working memory“, which is a type of short-term memory that we use when we solve problems, learn, and process complex information.

Interestingly, the researchers found that the students with ADHD weren’t fidgeting all the time, as commonly thought. In fact, they only started moving when they were working on complex cognitive tasks that required them to use their working memory.

“What we’ve found is that when they’re moving the most, the majority of them perform better,” said Rapport in the release. “They have to move to maintain alertness.” In contrast, the children without ADHD who moved more during the cognitive tests actually performed worse than if they stayed still.

The results have been published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, and are further evidence that not all children can learn in the same way, or should be forced to do so.

With schools around the world beginning to trial innovative teaching methods, such as replacing desks with exercise bikes, or getting rid of individual subjects altogether, in the future, we’re hopefully going to see more children able to learn and grow in an environment that works for them.

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