ADHD News & Research

Focused Fidgeting: Children with ADHD Learn and Remember More When Moving

A new study shows that movement helps children with ADHD perform better in school.

April 22, 2015

Most parents raising children with ADHD know that their kids focus best when they’re moving — even if it’s just fidgeting with a small toy under the desk. Teachers and school administrators, however, have long viewed these hyperactive tendencies as disruptive. Now, people with ADHD have the science to back up their claims, as a new study shows that children with ADHD who are allowed to fidget learn better than those who aren’t.

The same University of Central Florida (UCF) research team that conducted the current study had previously examined hyperactivity in children with ADHD, concluding that it only manifested when children were using their executive functions. Now, the current study builds off of that, showing how movement actually strengthens these executive functions — helping children with ADHD focus, learn, and remember.

The study looked at 52 boys between the ages of eight and twelve, 29 of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD. Researchers asked them to complete a working memory test in which they memorized a sequence of numbers and repeated it back to the researchers. Their sessions were videotaped and analyzed.

Researchers found that when the children with ADHD moved while completing the exercise, they performed significantly better than when they sat still. Their neurotypical peers, on the other hand, performed measurably worse on the exercises when they moved around.

The study was small, researchers admit, and lacked the double-blind parameters needed to establish straightforward causation. But the results further confirm what ADHD experts and parents have long suspected.

Researchers — and educators — are split on the best way to allow children with ADHD to move around while maintaining a productive learning environment for all children. Some theorize that a small fidget toy, which can be played with discreetly, is enough for many children with ADHD. Others argue in favor of a child’s hopping on a stationary bike or using an exercise ball instead of sitting at a desk.

“The message isn’t ‘let them run around the room,'” concludes Mark Rapport, a co-author on the study. “But you need to be able to facilitate their movement so they can maintain the level of alertness needed for cognitive activities.”