Could fidgeting, squirming and toe-tapping make it easier to learn? For some kids with (ADHD) the answer may be yes. They do seem to retain and process information better when they’re moving.
That’s what a recent study from the University of Central Florida suggests. Psychology professor Mark Rapport, Ph.D., and a team of his past and present doctoral students looked at 52 boys ages 8 to 12. Twenty-nine had been identified as having ADHD. The other 23 did not have the issue.
The researchers gave the kids tasks that required them to use their working memory. For example, they were shown a letter and several numbers on a computer screen. Then they were told to list the numbers in order, with the letter at the end. The researchers watched how much kids moved while they worked.
The study found that about 50 percent of the kids with ADHD did significantly better on these memory tasks when they were allowed to move around in their seats. Most of the other kids with ADHD did somewhat better. But there were still a few who didn’t do any better when they moved. Moving didn’t help any of the kids “pay attention” better.
“It is likely that there are different types of ADHD—not just one,” explains study co-author Dustin Sarver, Ph.D. He’s an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “It is important to look at each individual child.”
The kids who didn’t have ADHD tended to perform worse on tasks when they moved around, he adds.
So what do the findings mean for parents and teachers of kids with ADHD? This was just one small study. And we don’t know how applicable the results are to all kids. But it suggests that for many kids with ADHD, movement might be beneficial when they’re using working memory.
“I’m not advocating that kids with ADHD be allowed to run around the classroom,” Sarver says. “That could be distracting and harmful. But the study shows that facilitating minor movement that can be done at or under the desk may be helpful.”
The research team has done a series of studies related to movement and hyperactivity in kids with ADHD. And it has plans to repeat this most recent study. It’ll use a larger group of kids next time and will include girls, Sarver says.
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Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for