Kids with ADHD need to fidget, study says

If you've got a kid with ADHD, you've probably spent countless hours pleading with him to sit still. Well, stop it.

Fidgeting, as it turns out, helps kids with focus. So just like grown-ups need a cup of coffee before tackling a problem, kids with ADHD may tap their feet, swivel in their chairs or bounce in their seats while their brains are busily figuring out that math test.

That's the conclusion of a groundbreaking study conducted by a team at the University of Central Florida. The team, led by Dr. Mark Rapport, studied 23 pre-teen boys -- 12 with ADHD and 11 without -- and watched how the boys tackled problems that taxed their "," the short-term memory that most of us use unconsciously each day.

The tests were not easy: The boys were shown a series of numbers, then a few seconds later, asked to recall the numbers and rearrange them in order. In another test, they were shown a visual pattern and then asked to recall it, using the computer keyboard.

As they worked on the problems, the boys with ADHD spun around in their swivel chairs. They tapped their hands and feet and jiggled around. Even the movements that were not obvious on videotape were picked up by actigraphs, an activity monitor that the boys wore like watches.

"Everybody moves more when they're concentrating on the tasks, not just the ADHD kids," said Rapport, a former school psychologist who now studies the disorder at the Children's Learning Clinic at UCF. "But the ADHD kids moved significantly more," and as the tasks got harder, the kids jiggled and bounced and spun more. Why? Rapport said that, just as adults drink coffee to stay alert during a boring meeting, ADHD kids jiggle and wiggle to maintain alertness.

Parents naturally wondered why the kids, who bounce around during school hours, can sit still and play a video game or watch a movie.

But Rapport found that when he showed the preteen boys an exciting scene from "Star Wars," all of them sat very still -- because they did not have to concentrate to watch the movie. Likewise, even with video games, kids were not using working memory -- the higher-level thinking required of much schoolwork.

What makes ADHD kids different? Rapport suspects they are "under-aroused" -- that their brains do not produce enough dopamine to keep them alert during normal day-to-day activities -- so the kids move around to jiggle or wake their brains and bodies up.

For many teachers, like Darcey Eckers of Orlando, Rapport's findings confirmed what she has seen in years of teaching.

"These kids have to move," Eckers said. "It can be any kind of movement -- some part of their body, it doesn't even matter what part."

But at some schools, such movement is frowned upon. Eckers, who teaches second grade at Rosemont Elementary in Orange County, takes a different tack. If the children are more comfortable standing or pacing while they work, they can move to the back of the classroom.

"Some of them need to squeeze a ball, some need to tap a pencil while they work. I don't mind," said Eckers, a 17-year veteran of New York and Florida schools. What she's found is that the ADHD children may be stifled by the sit still, be quiet methods, but when allowed to move a little, they thrive. "They are the most amazing children; they are some of the smartest kids in the class."


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May 26, 2009
Of course the most effective treatment for preteen children who show signs of energetic activity is heavy psychotropic medication. Resistance to this regime can only be interpreted as antisocial behavior and should be referred to law enforcement and child protective services. We can absolutely NOT afford to have another generation of healthy, free, western minds running amok in our carefully planned societies.

May 26, 2009
You obviously don't have children with ADHD. Unless you manage it the child can develop problems in working with other children, issues concentrating which affects their ability to learn, and a general lack of self esteem attributed to being different from the other children in their peer group. Why do you think that so many of these kids grow up to be drug addicts? They're trying to feel normal and some kids feel illegal drugs are the only way they can get that way.

Not medicating a child for ADHD is a severe disservice to the child developmentally. You may as well take them out of school altogether. The drugs are a tool and do not adversely affect ADHD kids. Their brains need these substances to wake up the portions that are not working properly.

Your sarcasm is not necessary and you should think more or just keep your mouth shut when speaking of things you clearly have no clue about.

Jun 15, 2009
It's important not to stop the fidgeting. I'm always amazed that "breakthrough" studies so often reveal details about groups of people that members of those groups have been trying to convince people of for years. I always fidget when I'm thinking. I work fine with others and I'm not a drug addict. I'm a Writing Tutor, actually. My self-esteem is fine. And I'm sorry, but Arkaleus's sarcasm is quite appreciated from the standpoint of someone who grew up listening to that very rhetoric, minus the sarcasm. If drugs are desired, then fine. But the fact is that, like every other child, children with ADHD have minds of their own and don't usually want to take medicine. I would gladly accept social isolation as a happy alternative to the four years I spent as a ritalin zombie. I don't have to, but I would.

I've obviously never had children with ADHD but obviously, jaynewton, you've never been one.

Sing like no one's listening, dance like no one's near, and fidget if you have to. They'll get over it.

Jun 15, 2009
There was a recent report that attention is improved for meeting participants who doodle - wonder if there is any connection?

Jun 15, 2009
I saw that. There might be. Probably the subject of the next breakthrough study.

Jun 15, 2009
I have adhd and recently started medication. For the first time in my life I feel normal and am finally making progress towards my degree and life!

Jun 15, 2009

My point was not to stop the fidgeting. My point was to correct someone who has no clue how ADHD children act and react. I have an ADHD child, ADD wife, ADHD brother, neice and nephew. I know about ADHD and have a mild case of ADD. I've been through a year-long evaluation to determine why my daughter behaves the way she does. She's been kicked out of daycare, stolen money, gotten trapped in an elevator, and suffered bad grades because she wasn't medicated. This all happened before she was 8. Was your intent to tell me that this is a happy life? I don't think so and since I'm my daughter's father it's certainly my perogative.

Did it ever occur that ritalin was the wrong medication for you? Did you try another medication? Medication does not necessarily mean zombies. If kids become zombies then they either don't need the meds at all, less of it, or need a different med. It took us a year to find the right medication and dosage to make my daughter successful in school without serious side-effects. She's not a zombie. She now functions in school and makes good grades. She's very bright and talented but the ADHD covers it completely up. Now we can see more of the bright child because of the wonders of Concerta.

Try putting yourself in your parents shoes and understand what they felt when their son didn't behave in a similar fashion to his peers. We can tell when we watch you interact with other kids. You immediately feel guilt and wonder what you did wrong to have this happen. Same thing happens when any child has a disorder or disease. Why me?


Good for you! I hope the medication helps you regain your life!

Jun 16, 2009
My sarcasm was not meant for those who are correctly medicated and improved by it. My sarcasm was about overmedication, overdiagnosis, and the abuse of children by schools and parents who want to control the normal behavior of children with medication.

The temptation to drug children to make them manageable is an evil one and has no place in free societies. Instead of empowering and re-affirming the need for parents and teachers to discipline children, we have forbidden this important tool and behavior problems run unchecked until a crisis is reached. How many times have you heard about police being called for things that you and I did as children? We would be disciplined at school, and that was the end of it. Now, even minor offenses are a state emergency, requiring police action and the involvement of the courts. It's institutional abuse, and completely wrong.

Jun 16, 2009
Jaynewton, I don't want to make it sound like I know more about your situation than you do, and i do not mean to belittle your struggles throughout your life, but.. I am 23 years old and was diagnosed with ADHD at a very early age. I was on ritalin for a year and dexadrin for probably another 5 with decreasing doses as i was weened off the drug. Having to take the medications at such an early age made me feel that i was already different from everyone else, thus inhibiting my social expansion as a child, when most social skills are developed. I am not saying that medication is a bad thing, i assure you that it did help me in the long a sort. I have recently graduated from a top engineering school with a dual degree in nuclear engineering and engineering physics, a task that many would find impossible for someone with ADHD. I will admit that i need to fidget to concentrate, and most of the time i actually need some other form of distraction. i find it much easier to split my attention on multiple tasks than to focus on just one task. My intent with this message is not to say that medication is a bad thing...but i will say that unless you have ADHD and have taken meds for it, you really shouldnt consider it a solve all for your children. you should instead work with your children on embracing their disorder and learning to use it to their advantage. Most persons i have met with ADHD are actually quite brilliant, they just can't focus enough to get their thoughts out on paper. By prescribing the medications you are in a sense crippling their ability to cope and adjust to their natural body rythym. I will say if you do medicate your child, do what my parents did for me...slowly ween them off of it so they can learn to adjust for the disorder themselves. I will say as my final word, that you are doing everything right as a father, and evn though i am not one, i am sure your daughter appreciates what you are doing for her. It is obvious that you care a lot for her, which to be honest it becoming more rare for parents with children with troubles.

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