ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) affects children, adolescents and adults. Symptoms include difficulties controlling impulses and temper, maintaining concentration, sitting still, waiting or paying attention for longer periods.
ADHD research is ever growing. We know that ADHD is related to impairments in the executive functions of the brain – the ability to think and plan ahead, impulse control, organisation, and staying with a task through to completion. It has nothing to do with intelligence or personality. People with ADHD can be as intelligent, charming, capable and likeable as anyone. It’s also not about ‘bad behaviour’. Kids with ADHD want to do the right thing. They want to be able to sit quietly, be still and do as they’re asked, but their brains won’t let them.
The more that research is able to add to our understanding of ADHD, the greater our capacity to provide more effective forms of treatment and support. Here are some important practical insights.
The ADHD Research.
Let them move! (It’s good for them.)
People with ADHD tend to move, a lot, and we’re now discovering that there’s a very good reason for this – movement aids their cognitive function. Those who move more intensely perform better on cognitively demanding tasks that demand greater attention.
In a study of pre-teens and teenagers with ADHD, researchers at the University of California found that greater movement – both in terms of intensity and frequency – was correlated with significantly better cognitive performance.
A second study from the University of Florida found similar results, demonstrating that excessive movement plays a critical role in the way people with ADHD remember information and process complex cognitive tasks. There is something about that excessive movement that enhances their working memory – the important brain system that temporarily stores and manages the information needed to perform complex cognitive functions such as learning, reasoning and comprehending.
This adds to previous research by the study’s author which found that children with ADHD showed excessive movement only when they were using the brain’s executive functions, particularly working memory. This challenges previous beliefs that excessive movement was always there in children with ADHD. It’s not always there, only when they need it to be to maximize their cognitive function.
Stopping kids with ADHD from moving is detrimental.
Traditionally, interventions have aimed to decrease hyperactivity, but this undermines their capacity to perform and achieve well.
Children with ADHD need to be able to move to maintain alertness and to maximise cognitive function. In contrast, when children without ADHD move during cognitive tasks, their performance is worse.
This research strongly suggests that it’s detrimental to try to keep ADHD kids still, particularly in the classroom. If we want them to learn, which we do – they are bright, creative and capable – we need to find a way to let them move. This doesn’t mean letting them run around the classroom, but rather letting them do what they need to, provided it’s not intrusive. Feet tapping, leg swinging, squirming in their seat – let them go. Research is telling us that the bulk of students with ADHD will perform better at exams, homework and class work if the, say, are allowed to work while sitting on activity balls or exercise bikes.
Of course, this has to be measured with the disruptiveness to the rest of the class, but the more a balance is able to be achieved between maximizing opportunities for people with ADHD to move, while at the same time minimizing the chance of distraction to the rest of the class, this will allow people with ADHD the opportunity to participate and achieve on a more level playing field as more with their peers.
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