While the symptoms of ADHD can be troublesome and even dangerous, there are times when impulsivity and hyperactivity can be useful – as long as they are kept under control.   A new study from the University of Central Florida provides an explanation for why kids with ADHD hyperactive type keep bouncing off the wall. It turns out that movement keeps them alert enough to complete difficult tasks.  Just as adults tend to fidget more to stay awake during long meetings, kids with ADHD move around to keep their minds working.

This was discovered in a study that involved 23 boys with and without ADHD, aged 8 to 12. Each participant took several tests to measure the frequency and intensity of their hand movements. They were then asked to wear special watches designed to track their movement during the experiment.  It was also noted that those in the ADHD group had more problematic verbal and visual working memory compared to the boys in the other group.  The study’s authors discovered that both groups of children sat still and paid attention while they painted using computer software and watched a Star Wars movie.  They became more hyperactive when they were asked to remember letters, shapes, and numbers for a short period of time.  The boys in the ADHD group in particular were far more active than the rest – they fidgeted around in their seats and moved their hands and feet.  They also did poorly on these tests, and a similar test that asked them to reorder and remember a letter and number sequence.

These findings have an important implication for managing the symptoms of ADHD while helping cognitive function:

  • A faulty working memory means that kids with ADHD cannot hold onto a piece of information long enough to get a task done. This means that giving long, detailed instructions will only overwhelm your child and cause frustration. Instead, provide checklists and step by step instructions to help your child learn or do specific tasks.  Place these lists in an area where your child is sure to see it, such as on the refrigerator or the bedroom door.
  • Allow your child to chew gum or fidget with a small toy while doing homework.  Unless your child’s hyperactivity is becoming destructive, trying to restrict your child’s movement will be counterproductive.
  • Encourage deliberate, respectful fidgeting.  Letting your child squeeze a small rubber ball during a family dinner might help him or her sit and behave without much fuss. However, behavior that might bother others, such as running around, should be discouraged.  Your child’s sensory-motor movements are natural reactions when an activity cannot sustain his or her attention, so try to experiment with various strategies and behavior control techniques.