Why kids with ADHD should be allowed to squirm

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There’s more to helping children with ADHD than just medication and modification; embracing the importance of fidgeting is a good place to start.

Squirming, foot-tapping, leg-swinging, et cetera – these are the fidgety trademarks of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – and more often than not are met with frustrated pleas to “sit still and focus.”

But perhaps a more holistic approach is in order. A new study shows that in fact, sitting still may not be the best way to go – when it comes to learning, at least.

The research from the University of Central Florida found that the squirming associated with ADHD is actually essential to remembering information and working out complex cognitive tasks, showing that longstanding approaches to helping kids with ADHD may be misconceived.

"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."

In previous research, Rapport found that the fidgeting of hyperactive children is apparent only when they need to employ the brain's executive brain functions – especially working memory – rather than being something that is ever-present. But the latest research takes it a step further to reveal that it is actually part of the process.

"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."

The study suggests that a majority of the students could do better academically if they're sitting on activity balls or stationary bikes. Imagine, exercise and movement over scolding and medication – the concept makes life and learning for kids with ADHD seem a whole lot healthier.

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