ADHD which affects approximately 7.2% of children worldwide (Thomas, 2015) presents as either the hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive or combined subtype (Willcutt, 2012). It is often first suspected by classroom teachers who witness the symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention. An interesting new study suggests that students with ADHD are more attentive when allowed to fidget.
While behaviour modification efforts, especially in the classroom setting, are often aimed at reducing both hyperactivity and inattention, new research published in Child Neuropsychology suggests that fidgeting may actually help children with ADHD increase focus and exercise better mental control, contributing directly to an increase in performance on cognitive tasks (Hartanto, 2015).
Professor Julie Schweitzer of the Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences department at the MIND Institute at the University of California, spearheaded the study of 26 children with confirmed diagnoses of ADHD, which saw the leg movements of each child recorded by ankle monitors that each child was wearing during a series of computerised activities testing both cognition and attention. The results of the study confirmed that incidents of increased fidgeting directly correlated with a high level of accuracy in test performance. Conversely, the more still the children were during the test the more poorly they performed on the tests of cognition and attention. According to Schweitzer these results suggest that constant movement probably increases mental arousal for children with ADHD, much as stimulant drugs do.
The practical application of the study’s results seems clear to Schweitzer. Adults should encourage children with ADHD to fidget rather than correct them for it, especially during activities that require a high level of focus.
While Schweitzer’s research supports her conclusions, other scholars suggest that simply making accommodations for ADHD students to fidget misses the mark entirely, and that the real solution for children with ADHD when trying to focus in school is one that would support the student population as a whole (Tomporowski, 2011). That is, all people benefit from the opportunity to move around regularly throughout the day, whether diagnosed with ADHD or not, and incorporating more physical activity into the school day might alleviate the need for fidget-friendly classrooms in the first place. Harvard-trained educator and McLean Hospital alumna Nina Fiore emphasises that, “Regular movement has been shown to increase focus and retention in children and adults of all ages…and diagnoses would be lessened if more movement was incorporated into every aspect of school.”
Schweitzer and Fiore are in agreement about one thing, and that is that all children can perform better when they are provided with an outlet for physical activity. It may be that in the future more schools around the world will incorporate a degree of movement into the daily schedule high enough to alleviate the need for classroom-friendly fidget solutions. In the interim, however, Schweitzer offers some practical solutions that are designed to avoid distracting other students in the classroom. Her ideas include:
- allowing children to stand and stretch as needed, attaching elastic bands beneath children’s desks so that they can pull and play with them in a way that shouldn’t bother other children, or using yoga balls as chairs, so the children can bounce.
- The yoga ball seat approach in particular, has gained popularity among educators, as evidenced by three American elementary schools that have replaced classroom chairs with yoga balls entirely. One such educator, Robbi Giuliano, who teaches 10-year-olds in West Chester, Pennsylvania, describes the switch as one of the best decisions she has ever made, saying, “I have more attentive children. I’m able to get a lot done with them because they’re sitting on yoga balls.”
Many other opportunities exist for physical activities in the classroom, particularly ones that are neither disruptive nor stigmatising, and they can be used in school settings to help children perform cognitively demanding tasks.
To talk more about this, or anything else, please contact us. If you are considering an assessment for your child, please review our assessment pages.
Hartanto, T. A., Krafft, C. E., Iosif, A. M., & Schweitzer, J. B. (2015). A trial-by-trial analysis reveals more intense physical activity is associated with better cognitive control performance in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Child Neuropsychology, (ahead-of-print), 1-9.
Thomas, R., Sanders, S., Doust, J., Beller, E., & Glasziou, P. (2015). Prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 135(4), 994-1001.
Tomporowski, P. D., Lambourne, K., & Okumura, M. S. (2011). Physical activity interventions and children’s mental function: an introduction and overview. Preventive Medicine, 52, S3-S9.
Willcutt, E. G., Nigg, J. T., Pennington, B. F., Solanto, M. V., Rohde, L. A., Tannock, R., … Lahey, B. B. (2012). Validity of DSM-IV attention–deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptom dimensions and subtypes. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121(4), 991–1010.
Recent discussions on education is pointing to the need for re-thinking the way children receive education. Here at the Quirky Kid Clinic, we have long advocated on a child-focused approach where each child receives the most appropriate education strategy or intervention. We work from the child’s perspective, making use of strong creative approaches and make sure parent and child understand each other. To-date, we offer consultancy to a range of educational institutions
The same perspective – on the education system and ADHD – was echoed by creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. During his presentation, he makes a strong argument against the use of medication as the principal method of treatment with children diagnosed with ADHD. This is also a strong focus of Quirky Kid’s work with children and families experiencing ADHD.
In summary, he indicates that our children are living during the mot stimulating period of our existence and we are penalizing children and demanding they listen to, at times, boring non- interactive classes – by medicating them. There are much more to his presentation, so please watch below:
Please see the video below:
If you would like more information on ADHD interventions at the Quirky Kid Clinic, please contact us.
What is attention?
Attention is the cognitive process of concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things. Examples of attention include listening to one conversation while ignoring others that are going on in a room, or focusing on what is happening in the classroom when there is a sports lesson going on outside.
How can I tell if my child has difficulties with attention?
Children with attention difficulties often display some or all the following behaviours:
- Making careless mistakes in schoolwork
- Difficulty sustaining attention during a task or when playing
- Seems to not listen when spoken to directly
- Doesn’t follow through on instructions and doesn’t finish schoolwork
- Difficulty organising complex tasks
- Loses important items
- Avoids or dislikes activities that need long periods of concentration, such as school projects
Is it Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)?
Not all children with attention difficulties have ADHD. All children will have periods of inattention at some point for various reasons such as being tired, hungry or disinterested in the current task. Children with ADHD display inattentive and hyperactive behaviours more often and intensely than other children the same age. Diagnosis of ADHD is a lengthy process that can be completed by a pediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist.
How can I manage my child’s attention difficulties at home?
- Maintain eye contact with your child when giving instructions, and have him repeat instructions back to you so you can be sure he has understood.
- Keep the daily routine as predictable as possible, and prepare your child for changes in her routine.
- Keep verbal directions clear and brief.
- Provide healthy food options to enhance energy and concentration.
- Ensure your child has regular sleep and wake times for adequate rest.
How can my child’s attention difficulties be managed in the classroom?
- Provide the child with low-distraction work areas, such as being seated near the teacher’s desk, and away from temptations such as toys or computers.
- Establish specific classroom rules and follow them consistently.
- Surround the child with classmates who will serve as good role models.
- Where possible, write instructions down as well as giving them verbally, as written instructions serve as a reminder to stay on-task.
- Break large activities into small achievable steps, only giving the next instruction once the first step has been completed.
- Provide positive statements and praise when the child is focused and on-task, and decrease the focus on negative behaviours.
- Schedule more difficult or demanding tasks at the best times for concentrating, usually mornings.
- Allowing the child extra time to complete difficult tasks where possible.
We offer a range of services, workshops and individualized consultations to support children with attention difficulties or ADHD. Please contact us for more information
Information for this fact sheet has been gathered from the Better Health Channel, Raising Children Network, and child psychologist Kimberley O’Brien. Prepared by Psychologist Jacqui Olsson.
Children with ADHD show a pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity that is more frequent and severe than is typical of a child their age.
This pattern of behaviour must be observable both at home and at school. Children suffering from ADHD often fail to pay close attention to detail in their schoolwork or other tasks, and their work is often messy and completed in a hurry. They often find it hard to stick with tasks until they are finished, and may move quickly from one task to another. Children with ADHD often appear as if their mind is elsewhere, and that they are not listening to what is being said.
These children are often fidgety, and have difficulty staying seated at school or while at the dinner table or watching TV. They often have difficulty playing quietly and seem to talk excessively. Children suffering from ADHD are often impatient, and have difficulty waiting their turn. They may make comments out of turn, interrupt others, grab objects from others, fail to listen to instructions and generally disrupt others.
What should I look for?
- Does your child make careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities?
- Does your child have difficulty remaining interested in play activities or tasks?
- Does your child appear not to listen when spoken to directly?
- Does your child fail to follow through on instructions?
- Does your child have difficulty organising tasks and activities?
- Does your child avoid tasks that require sustained attention such as homework?
- Is your child often forgetful?
- Does your child often fidget or appear uncomfortable?
- Does your child leave their seat in the classroom or where staying seated is expected?
- Is your school-aged child “on the go” or “driven by a motor”?
- Does your child talk excessively?
- Does your child blurt out answers before a question is completed?
- Does your child often interrupt others?
What can the Quirky Kid Clinic do for my child?
The Quirky Kid Clinic is a unique place for children and adolescents aged 2-18 years. We work from the child’s perspective to help them find their own solutions. If you suspect your child may be experiencing symptoms of ADHD you might consider one of the following options:
American Psychiatric Association:Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.