ADHD

Updated 30 May 2016

Fidgeting may help students with ADHD

A study found that fidgeting among children increased when they faced more challenging memory tasks.

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Students who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often get into trouble for fidgeting in the classroom, but new research suggests that fidgeting may help them learn.

Observing amount of fidgeting

"The prevailing view has been and continues to be that hyperactivity is a core deficit in ADHD," said study author Michael Kofler, an assistant professor of psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "When we think of it as a deficit, we are saying it's a bad thing and it's interfering [with schoolwork]. Our work has been challenging that thought."

Read: What is ADHD?

Kofler's team gave 25 boys and girls with ADHD, aged 8 to 12, a series of working memory tasks, observing the amount of fidgeting as the children did them. In one set, the students had to remember where a series of dots appeared on a screen and then reorder them mentally, based on colour.

They had to then remember a series of numbers and letters, mentally reordering them, numbers first from smallest to biggest, then the letters.

In the easier test of dots on a screen, the children knew in advance how many items they would have to remember.

In the more difficult test, the amount of items they would have to remember was random so they didn't know in advance how many items they would have to remember. 

Read: Symptoms of ADHD

The children fidgeted during all the tests, but fidgeted about 25 percent more when they couldn't predict how many items they would have to remember. The tests were alike in every other way, so Kofler said this shows that demands on working memory affect the level of hyperactivity in ADHD students.

Fidgeting may have positive results

The fidgeting may increase "physiological arousal", Kofler speculated, similar to what stimulant medication does for a child with the disorder. But the study didn't prove that point, he said, and the researchers don't know if the kids were fidgeting on purpose.

The study was published online in the Journal of Attention Disorders.

The findings echo some from a study published last year from the University of California, Davis. Researchers there looked at 26 children with ADHD and 18 without. They found that when the children with ADHD fidgeted more, they did better on a test. Fidgeting among kids without ADHD had no effect on test performance. 

Read: Treating ADHD

Dr Trevor Resnick, a paediatric neurologist at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami, said, "We've known [intuitively] for many years that kids with ADHD often do better when they are fidgeting."

However, Resnick said, the interpretation of why they fidgeted more has not been proven. "We don't know whether they do it to help or because they are anxious, or whether it is helping," he said.

Kofler agreed, saying his team next plans research "to link the movement with the arousal and the performance, to see if we are right about that is why the movement is helpful."

Meanwhile, until more is known, students with ADHD should not have free rein to do what they want in the classroom, Kofler said.

But the new study does suggest that teachers and parents should focus less on whether a child is sitting still and more on whether the work is getting done, regardless of the movement level, he said. 

Read more:  

Need for earlier recognition and treatment of ADHD

ADHD in the classroom 

Parenting a child with ADHD

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ADHD Expert

Dr. Shabeer Ahmed Jeeva is a specialist psychiatrist who has been practicing child and adult psychiatry for 30 years. He has vast experience in treating ADHD, and is also an ADHD patient himself. Dr. Jeeva trained and practiced in Canada as a child and adult psychiatrist and had lived there for 25 years. He had attended medical school at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland (1970-1976). His professional experience and accreditation includes: Psychiatric residency at the University of Ottawa (Canada), Child Psychiatry fellowship at the University of Ottawa (Canada), Diploma in Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa (Canada), and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Canada.

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