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Understanding hyperactivity

By Understood Team

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Lots of people are very active. But when it’s time to stop and settle down, they typically manage to put on the brakes.

But some people just can’t keep still. They’re forever fidgeting, playing with things, talking, or in the case of kids, running and shouting, even after they’re told to stop. They’re more than just active. Experts would describe them as hyperactive. 

What is hyperactivity? Hyperactivity is constantly being active in ways that aren’t appropriate for the time or setting. It’s the constant part that makes the big difference. If it happened once or twice, nobody would think much of it.

What causes people to be hyperactive? The first thing to know is that hyperactivity isn’t caused by a lack of discipline or intelligence. Bad parenting doesn’t cause it, either.

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Age is an important factor, especially with young kids. It takes time for them to develop the skills they need to keep their behavior in check. And kids don’t all develop at the same rate. One child might have good self-control at age 4 while it takes another until age 6.

But there comes a point where most kids in an age group have similar ability to manage their energy levels and act in an appropriate way. That’s when it becomes clearer that a child is hyperactive.

There can be different reasons for hyperactivity. But a main cause is ADHD, a common condition that results from differences in how the brain develops. For most people with ADHD, hyperactivity doesn’t last into adulthood. But some never lose that need to move.

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When ADHD is the cause of hyperactivity

We don’t yet know exactly what causes ADHD and its symptoms. But brain research has shown real differences in how the brain develops in people who have ADHD versus those who don’t.

Certain parts of the brain are less developed and/or take longer to mature in people with ADHD. These parts of the brain are responsible for a group of skills called executive function , which includes self-control. This may partly explain why some people with ADHD are hyperactive.

Researchers are also looking into the role genes may play, since ADHD tends to run in families.

Examples of hyperactive behavior

Hyperactivity can look different at different ages, and it can vary from person to person. It’s much more common in kids than in teens or adults. Kids with hyperactivity might:

  • Run and shout when playing, even indoors

  • Stand up in class and walk around while the teacher is talking

  • Move so fast they bump into people and things

  • Play too roughly and accidentally hurt other kids or themselves

  • Interrupt a lot or talk constantly

  • Fidget and pick up things and play with them

  • Have trouble sitting still for meals and other quiet activities

Teens may be active in other ways . They might stay seated, but constantly squirm, jiggle their legs, or fiddle with things. Adults might move less, but still feel restless. They can have so much energy that they wear other people out. Also, they may jump from task to task without finishing anything.

For parents and caregivers: What to do next

Kids who are hyperactive need positive ways to use up excess energy. These can include games, activities, and chores that involve physical activity. Regular exercise can make a big difference. So can treatments for ADHD

No matter how hard they try to control their actions and keep still, people with hyperactivity are often judged, criticized, or bullied. This can lead to low self-esteem. So, focus on strengths and give praise that can build self-esteem

Here are specific steps parents and caregivers can take:

For educators: What to do next

Classroom supports and accommodations can keep hyperactivity from getting in the way of learning. For example, some kids might benefit from flexible seating like wiggle chairs or standing desks. Taking short breaks to stretch or walk around may also help.

It’s important for families and educators to work together to help kids manage their behavior and get support. Also, bringing empathy into the classroom can make a big difference. 

Here are specific steps educators can take:

For people with hyperactivity: What can help

Physical activity can have a big impact on hyperactivity. Playing sports, regular exercise, or physical work are good ways to use up energy. Fidgets can satisfy the need to move without disturbing people. There are fidgets for adults as well as for kids.

ADHD medication reduces hyperactivity in most people. It also helps with other ADHD symptoms like trouble with focus or impulse control. Those are the symptoms that usually last into adulthood.

People may also be able to get accommodations at school or at work to help them manage their need to move. One example is being able to take short breaks during the day to walk around.

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Hyperactivity Root causes

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