Vindication For Fidgeters: Movement May Help Students With ADHD Concentrate

May 15, 2015

Image: LA Johnson/NPR

By Anya Kamenetz

Are you a pen-clicker? A hair-twirler? A knee-bouncer? Did you ever get in trouble for fidgeting in class? Don’t hang your head in shame. All that movement may be helping you think.

A new study suggests that for children with attention disorders, hyperactive movements meant better performance on a task that requires concentration. The researchers gave a small group of boys, ages 8 to 12, a sequence of random letters and numbers. Their job: Repeat back the numbers in order, plus the last letter in the bunch. All the while, the kids were sitting in a swiveling chair.

For the subjects diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, moving and spinning in the chair were correlated with better performance. For typically developing kids, however, it was the opposite: The more they moved, the worse they did on the task.

Dustin Sarver at the University of Mississippi Medical Center is the lead author of this study. ADHD is his field, and he has a theory as to why fidgeting helps these kids.


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6 comments on “Vindication For Fidgeters: Movement May Help Students With ADHD Concentrate

  • This is hardly ground-breaking stuff, is it? At most of the schools I’ve worked in, it’s standard practice to provide some children (typically one or two per class and normally boys) with fiddle toys to play with to help them concentrate.



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  • I feel the lead to your article may cause some confusion.
    It has become common for people use a mental illness to describe certain habits, behaviors, and thoughts of their own. For example, someone who likes organization and order may say, “I can be a little OCD.” Other times bipolar is used to describe the weather. The lead of your article is doing the same sort of thing. Yes, I fidget a lot in class, but I do not have ADHD. If the swivel chair helped the children with ADHD, then the comparison to people that fidget is inappropriate in my eyes.
    My son has ADHD and it is a serious mental illness. For him to succeed in school goes far beyond swivel chairs. Actually fidgeting or fiddle toys are not effective for my son. His teacher gives him a pressure vest to wear and a textured pad to sit on, along with other accomodations.
    The study is small and does not provide any unique insight. Please be mindful when writing about mental illness. ADHD can have devastating effects for those living with it. I feel it is important to keep individual traits separate from mental illness.



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  • I’m often struck, as a primary school teacher, by the way we sometimes place behavioural expectations on pupils which we wouldn’t dream of placing on adults.

    For instance, during assemblies in my school, pupils are expected to sit cross-legged on a wooden floor in closely packed lines for 20, 30, 40 minutes at a time. I’d like to see us adults doing that without fidgeting!



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  • I’ve known this was true about myself since I was a kid. I was diagnosed as “hyperactive” back in the 70’s and was on Ritalin for a few years. I found that I could concentrate better if I was engaged in some kind of physical action. Approaching the problems in an oblique manner using this method allowed me to concentrate longer and focus on the problem without becoming preoccupied with concentrating about concentrating.



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  • Ewan
    May 16, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    For instance, during assemblies in my school, pupils are expected to sit cross-legged on a wooden floor in closely packed lines for 20, 30, 40 minutes at a time. I’d like to see us adults doing that without fidgeting!

    Ah! One of those ancient traditions!

    http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/drericwebb/docs/wells/wells-key-ill.htm
    Misericord seats are found in the choir stalls in churches, cathedrals and monastic foundations all over Europe. They are made to lift and tip back, like modern theatre seats but without the counterbalance. On the underside is a shallow shelf, supported by a wooden bracket on which the occupant can then take some weight, thus appearing to remain standing upright whilst in reality partially seated. The posture is broadly similar to that taken on a shooting stick, but with greater stability and often with additional support from high armrests.

    Used in this way, the misericord provides relief [Latin misericordia = act of mercy] for those who must spend long hours on their feet in the course of worship. In mediæval times there were 8 services in 24 hours: matins, lauds, prime terce, sext, none, vespers and compline, and properly speaking, those services were to be said and sung standing.



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  • Applied Behaviour Analysis has a lot of peer reviewed research and scientifically proven methods to improve concentration in ADHD. How can anyone concentrate when they are moving around? The function of the behaviour could be escape from demand therefore fidgeting can’t help you concentrate because it’s the opposite of doing so.



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