If you want kids with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to learn, they must be allowed to move around, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF).
All the leg-swinging and chair-scooting movements of ADHD children actually play a major role in helping them retain information and working out complex cognitive tasks.
The findings reveal that the longtime prevailing methods for helping children with ADHD may be misguided.
“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 one of the study’s 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.”
The study has big implications for how parents and teachers should deal with ADHD kids, particularly with the increasing importance now given to students’ performance on standardized testing. The findings suggest that most students with ADHD could perform better on classroom work, tests and homework if they’re sitting on activity balls or exercise bikes, for instance.
The researchers evaluated 52 boys (ages 8 to 12), 29 of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD. The remaining 23 had no clinical disorders and showed healthy development.
Each child engaged in a series of standardized tasks designed to test their “working memory,” the system for temporarily storing and managing information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning and comprehension.
Participants were shown a series of jumbled numbers and a letter that flashed onto a computer screen. They were then asked to put the numbers in order, followed by the letter. A high-speed camera recorded the kids, and observers recorded their every movement and gauged their attention to the task.
From his prior work, Rapport already knew that the excessive movement found in hyperactive children — previously thought to be ever-present — is actually apparent only when they need to use the brain’s executive functions, especially working memory.
The new research goes an important step further, showing that the movement serves a purpose.
“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, the children in the study without ADHD also moved more during the cognitive tests, but it had the opposite effect in that they performed worse.
The findings are published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
Source: University of Central Florida