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Let Them Squirm

Jul. 7, 2015|978 views
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One of the hallmarks of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the need to move. Kids diagnosed with this disorder never seem to sit still. When forced to do so, they usually squirm. Traditionally, educators and other adults have struggled to get these kids to sit still in class, in the belief that learning requires a still body and a focused mind. But new research suggests that squirming, wiggling, and other movements that may be interpreted as distracting by adults are an important part of the way ADHD kids learn.

That’s right: they need to squirm to learn. Being free to squirm enhances their ability to learn new information and engage in complex cognitive tasks. Which means, we’ve been doing it wrong all along. "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 study 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.”

When required to take standardized tests, for example, ADHD kids would be expected to fare better if they were allowed to sit on exercise bikes, or activity balls. Leg swinging, toe tapping and chair scooting are all “nervous” movements that actually help these kids learn. Rapport’s team at the University of Central Florida filmed 52 boys ranging in age from 8 to 12. About half had ADHD, while the rest were “normal”.

High-speed cameras revealed that the excessive movements associated with ADHD only actually occur when a child is engaged in complex cognition, including memorization tasks. The new study proves the movement that is so distracting to adults serves a purpose for these kids. "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.” In contrast, when the non-ADHD kids moved during these tasks, their performance actually suffered.

University of Central Florida website. College and Campus News page. Retrieved Apr. 21, 2014 from:

Dustin E. Sarver, Mark D. Rapport, Michael J. Kofler, Joseph S. Raiker, Lauren M. Friedman. Hyperactivity in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Impairing Deficit or Compensatory Behavior? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s10802-015-0011-1   


Tags:  adhd, children wellness, health tips