Swiveling helps kids with ADHD perform better at schoolwork, studies show

Fidgeting helps ADHD kids concentrate in class, study.
Fidgeting helps ADHD kids concentrate in class, study. Photo: Getty

Do your children have trouble sitting still, completing homework without distractions or focusing on just about anything without fiddling, twiddling or wriggling?

For some kids, these habits can be academically advantageous, according to two new studies.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) analysed research from the MIND Institute at the University of California that discovered children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) received better results on cognitive tasks when they could move around and fidget more than they would usually be allowed to.

For instance, they could swivel as much as they pleased on a rotating chair, which any parent would know is almost as exciting to a child as a merry-go-round ride.

The more they pivoted, the better they performed.

Students without ADHD were also permitted to jiggle around, but the more they did, the lower their marks were.

In another study published in the journal Child Neuropsychology, 26 children with ADHD and 18 typically developing children were studied while completing a computerised test.

An Actigraph was strapped to the children's ankles to measure how often and intensely they moved during 204 four-second presentations, and it was again found more movement equalled a better performance for those with ADHD.

"What we found was that when the children with ADHD had intense movement—the kind of movement a teacher or another child would notice in the classroom—they did better on the task," Dr. Schweitzer of the MIND Institute told the WSJ.

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Unlike the first study, the level and severity of movement had no effect on the results of children without ADHD.

Dustin Sarver, assistant professor of paediatrics at University of Mississippi Medical Centre explained physical movement is believed to increase the arousal levels of children's brains, which helps for those with ADHD but can sometimes push these levels too high for other children.

In light of the emerging theory that moving increases alertness for children with ADHD, schools in America are trialling the addition of standing desks, exercise stability balls and reading while riding a stationary bike.

Some are even making changes as subtle as allowing chewing gum.

But lead researcher of the University of California study, Dr. Schweitzer, stressed the need for more research to confirm how beneficial the altering of classrooms will prove.

The next step is to determine whether it is enough to allow children with ADHD to reduce their medication, stop taking it completely, or be replaced with other behavioural therapies.

While Australia isn't yet experimenting with extra movement in the classroom, Thea Gumbert-Jourjon, a psychologist at the Comprehensive Psychological Assessment Centre, has some tips for keeping children with ADHD focused on their schoolwork.

"It's a good idea to keep homework practice 'short and sweet', but ensure it's a regular, predictable routine," Gumbert-Jourjon said.

"Children with or without ADHD will find it much easier to engage with their homework and to remember information if they do a little each day, rather than a big burst once a week."

Homework practice should also be broken up with breaks so the child can engage in physical activity to expend excess energy, and it's important to keep encouraging them with "good effort" as much – or more – than "good work", Gumbert-Jourjon advised.

Since fiddling can benefit children with ADHD, it might help to allow sensory toys (such as a squishy ball) while the child concentrates on cognitively demanding activities.

Dr Gumbert-Journon also explained how you can also be creative with your approach.

"Not all learning needs to be done at a desk… Incorporate games, or outside activities. For example, for spelling practice, why not go write in chalk outside, or use a sandbox, or play a game with Scrabble tiles?"

And if you don't already own a swivel chair, it may be time to invest in one.

Afterall, who knew they could provide some kids with more than amusement, distraction and dizziness?