Fidgeting Shown to be a Good Thing for Children with ADHD
Sit still in class? Perhaps not if you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 10 children and teens has been diagnosed with ADHD, a disorder that causes a wide range of behaviors ranging from distraction and inattentiveness to forms of hyperactivity such as fidgeting and nonstop talking. In addition, children and teens with ADHD may exhibit impulsive and impatient behavior.
Stimulant medications, such as Adderall and Ritalin are often used to treat children with ADHD, as those medications can produce a calming effect, reducing hyperactivity and impulsivity, while improving the child’s ability to focus.
Two new studies, however, suggest that children with ADHD actually perform better on cognitive tasks when they are allowed to fidget and move freely about the classroom. According to a recent article written by the Wall Street Journal:
The research showed that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder perform better on cognitive tasks when allowed to fidget or move more freely than is typically allowed in many classrooms. The theory: Moving increases their alertness.
“Parents and teachers need to stop telling children [with ADHD] to sit still,” said Julie Schweitzer, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, who was senior author of one of the studies. “We know that some activity can be disruptive to others, but we need to find ways to make it less conspicuous and to integrate socially appropriate ways of moving.”
Authors of the other study found similar results. From the article:
For another study, published in the journal Child Neuropsychology earlier in June, researchers measured the intensity and frequency of students’ movements while they completed a computerized test. Again, students diagnosed with ADHD performed significantly better when making intense movements. The study included 26 children with ADHD and 18 typically developing children.
The children, between 10 and 17 years old, performed a 20-minute computerized test called the flanker test, which measures attention, inhibition and ability to filter out distraction. The number of right versus wrong answers was compared in 204 four-second presentations. While taking the test, an actigraph was strapped to the children’s ankles to measure the intensity and frequency of their movements.
“What we found was that when the children with ADHD had intense movement—the kind of movement a teacher or another child would notice in the classroom—they did better on the task,” said Dr. Schweitzer, of the MIND Institute. Movement had no effect on the typically developing group. The analysis controlled for IQ and gender.
While this new information may change the way we think about treating children with ADHD, some doubt movement therapies will displace medications. From the article:
Other experts doubt movement therapies will ever displace drugs. “It’s not going to be an alternative to medical treatment,” said Russell A. Barkley, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston. “But as a coping device and as something that teachers might wish to consider in the classroom it’s very consistent with an emerging body of work showing that physical exercise in general is beneficial.”
Parents of children and teens with ADHD should discuss medical options with their child’s doctor before deciding to take, or stop taking medications. For questions about medications used to treat ADHD and their potential risks and benefits, please visit any Owens Healthcare Location and speak with one of our pharmacists.