Let Students With ADHD Fidget, Says Study

By Jordan Moeny — May 15, 2015 1 min read
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Toe-tapping, squirming, and finger-drumming could actually be a helpful part of the learning process for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, says a new study from the University of Central Florida and published last month in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

The study involved 52 boys between the ages of 8 and 12 years old, 29 of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD. Each child performed a series of tasks that tested his short-term memory skills. The students with ADHD who performed the best were also the ones who moved the most while working.

Mark Rapport, director of the Children’s Learning Clinic at UCF and one of the study’s authors, suggested that movement might be a way of staying alert for these children. “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,” Rapport told UCF Today.

The findings suggest that letting students with ADHD fidget in the classroom might be the best course to take, even if a teacher’s instinct is sometimes to ask them to stop. Of course, teachers have several factors to consider when approaching issues like this, especially since one student’s movements might distract those around them.

Complicating the situation is the fact that the study also found that for children without ADHD, more movement was associated with worse performance. That makes the study’s results even trickier to use in a classroom setting, since teachers may not always know which of their students have ADHD, particularly if the condition is undiagnosed. And in any case, asking all students except for those with ADHD to stop wiggling sounds like a setup for a “But if he can, why can’t I?” situation.

Finally, the study comes with the caveat that the sample population was fairly small and limited to boys in a certain age range, so it’s hard to say whether or not the same results would be seen among girls or older or younger students. Still, it might be something to keep in mind when certain students just can’t stop fidgeting while they work.

Image: Rennett Stowe/Flickr Creative Commons

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.