New research from the University of Central Florida (UCF) suggests that children with ADHD learn better if they are allowed to squirm.
Typically, children with ADHD display behaviors such as restlessness, constant talking, an inability to pay attention, and an inability to remain focused on one single task. Each of these characteristics make it harder for these children to listen in school and could be disruptive to other students in the class.
While these children have historically been told by teachers to “sit still and listen,” recent findings suggest that allowing these children to move could be vital to the way they learn and process information. Characteristic movements such as foot-tapping, leg-swinging and chair-scooting could help children with ADHD remember information and work out complex cognitive tasks. Researchers say they could possibly benefit from sitting on exercise balls during class.
“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.”
Researchers studied 52 boys between the ages of 8 and 12, 29 of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD. The other 23 boys had no clinical disorders and showed normal development. The children each performed a series of standardized tasks in order to determine their “working memory.” Researchers showed children a series of jumbled numbers and letters flashing on a computer screen. Children were then asked to put the numbers in order followed by the letter. High-speed cameras were used to observe their movements, while researchers noted each child’s ability to stay attentive to the task at hand.
Previous studies show that children who suffer from ADHD usually exhibit excessive movements when the brain’s executive brain functions are in use. The new research builds on this, finding that such movement actually serves an important purpose, writes Rebekah Marcarelli for HNGN.
“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.”
However, those children without ADHD who increased movements during learning times exhibited a decrease in working memory.
ADHD is the most common behavioral disorder beginning in childhood. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that 11% of children between the ages of 4 and 17 had been officially diagnosed with ADHD by 2011.