New Study Shows How Movement Helps Kids with ADHD

Boy balancing pencil on nose

A new study puts fidgeting in a positive light for students with ADHD.
Image: Shutterstock

According to a new study, trying to get kids with ADHD to sit still actually works against them. Florida State University Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael Kofler is working on new, non-medication ways to help kids with ADHD. What he’s found is that children fidget when they are trying to solve a problem, and for kids with ADHD, that movement has a positive effect.

Professor Kofler had suspected this based on other studies, so he engineered the first study to focus directly on this. The study found a direct cause and effect relationship to students’ fidgeting. A survey of 25 children with ADHD, aged 8 to 12, had them take two types of test focusing on working memory. Working memory rearranges information or updates it in real time–it’s the kind we use to process information while undertaking tasks. It’s also the kind of memory that ADHD interferes with.

The tests had the kids rearrange a sequence of remembers numbers or colors in different ways, and what they found was that the kids fidgeted while doing this. In some of the tests they were told to arrange things in one way before the test began, but in others what they needed to remember was random. The study found that, when faced with the more random tests where they had to use their working memory more, the kids also fidgeted more. This shows a direct relationship between working memory and physical movement, namely that the harder working memory has to work, the more the kids need to fidget in order to accomplish the task.

Professor Kofler is taking this into account while developing new ADHD treatments, but the information itself indicates a huge shift in our understanding of ADHD. Fidgeting and other such symptoms aren’t the problem; they’re symptoms of the problem, and they work to help children overcome those issues.

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