Some kids (and adults) with ADHD simply cannot stay still. This propensity toward fidgeting can cause people with ADHD trouble at school, work, and even in home life. A fidgety child will find it hard to focus on lessons in a classroom setting, even if the subject is something he or she finds interesting. Fidgety children are often also disciplined by teachers for disrupting the class. Likewise, adults with ADHD may find that others are distracted by their restlessness. However, fidgeting can also be useful: new research has suggested that those with ADHD learn better on the move.
Recent research carried out by Mark Rapport, a researcher at the University of Central Florida, has found that the excessive movement (hyperactivity) which is symptomatic of ADHD helps children with the learning disorder to retain more information, and more easily perform certain tasks. This research should be of interest not only to people with ADHD, but to teachers and parents as well. This is because in many learning environments the aim is to actively reduce hyperactivity. While there is a justification for this (teachers, for instance, often try to discourage hyperactivity because it has a tendency to disrupt other students, and they believe it impedes the learning process), the author of the study has claimed that reducing this hyperactivity (by forcing children to sit down, for instance) may not be best for people with ADHD.
Typical behaviors associated with ADHD include constant chatter, restlessness, non-stop movement, an inability to concentrate on one task at once, and difficulty paying attention to certain tasks for a long period of time. Children with ADHD are more likely to fidget than adults. In the classroom, children with ADHD often play with their hair, tap or spin pencils, or squirm around in their chair. The impulse to move around is often impossible to ignore. Adults with ADHD are often less hyperactive than children, yet they often still feel compelled to fidget, and the impulse to move is still there in many cases — which explains why so many ADHD adults find long work meetings or movies hard to get through.
Previous research undertaken by Rapport concluded that the excessive movement associated with ADHD probably occurs when children need to use the executive functions of the brain (ADHD is associated with impaired executive functions). For the most recent study, the researchers asked boys between 8 and 12 years old to complete a series of tasks. The challenges were designed to test working memory, one of the executive functions. Working memory is integral to learning and reasoning tasks. The test participants were shown letters and numbers on a screen, and then asked to repeat the numbers and letters in order. While the participants completed the tasks, a camera recorded their attention and movements.
Of the children in the study, half of them had been diagnosed with ADHD and half had not. The researchers found that, of the children who had been diagnosed with ADHD, those who moved around a lot when they were completing the tasks performed a lot better. Although this was a small study, and therefore the researchers cannot draw wide-ranging conclusions, the results do suggest that hyperactivity serves a purpose in children with ADHD. The neurodevelopmental problems associated with ADHD mean that people with the disorder have to move a lot to stay alert.
How can parents of children with ADHD (or adults who have ADHD) use this information? People with ADHD must use their hyperactivity to facilitate learning. Parents of children with ADHD should consider getting their child a fidget toy such as a stress ball or slinky. A fidget toy can help a child burn off excess energy quietly. Likewise, adults with ADHD should consider using their hyperactivity to help them learn and solve problems. For example, listening to an audiobook while walking or doing housework may be easier for people with ADHD than simply sitting down and reading. If it is hard to keep track during work meetings, people with ADHD should consider fidgeting in a socially acceptable way; taking a short break (by going for coffee or to the bathroom) can be useful, as well as doodling or chewing gum.
ADHD, like any other learning difficulty, is associated with a whole host of difficulties at school and work. Both adults and children with ADHD are more likely to have discipline problems, for instance, yet given the right environment and conditions they can thrive. Although medication and therapy can be helpful at reducing the impact of ADHD symptoms on day-to-day life, it is important that people with ADHD, instead of suppressing or ignoring the symptoms of their neurodevelopmental disorder, try to find ways to use those symptoms to their advantage. So, if you have ADHD, the next time somebody scolds you for fidgeting, you can let them know that you fidget to learn.