Normal efforts to get children with ADHD to “sit still and focus” may be counterproductive, according to a study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. A team of Florida researchers found that children with ADHD actually have better working memory when they are “squirming” in their seats.
The study compared 29 boys ages 8 to 12 who’d been diagnosed with ADHD and 23 showing “typical development.” They were tested with standardized tasks involving ordering jumbled letters and numbers. The tests were designed to gauge “working memory,” which a press release about the study described as “the system for temporarily storing and managing information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning and comprehension.”
The researchers found that higher rates of activity — such as foot-tapping, leg-swinging and chair-scooting — predicted significantly better performances for the children with ADHD, even though such activities were associated with poorer performances for the more typical children. The researchers also noted that, “Variations in movement did not predict changes in attention for either group.”
At the same time, the researchers noted that external observers tended to identify the children with ADHD as “Improved” when they were less active, and “Deteriorated” when more active, even though the opposite was usually the case.
“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 a co-author of the study in the press release. The author suggested that there was a need to “facilitate their movement” by perhaps letting children with ADHD sit on activity balls or exercise bikes when doing schoolwork. “What we’ve found is that when they’re moving the most, the majority of them perform better,” he said. “They have to move to maintain alertness.”
Sarver, Dustin E., Mark D. Rapport, Michael J. Kofler, Joseph S. Raiker, and Lauren M. Friedman. “Hyperactivity in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Impairing Deficit or Compensatory Behavior?” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, April 12, 2015, 1–14. doi:10.1007/s10802-015-0011-1. (Abstract)
Kids with ADHD must squirm to learn, study says (University of Central Florida press release on MedicalXpress, April 17, 2015)