The Education Desk: How Wiggling Helps ADHD Kids Learn
If kids with ADHD are wiggling in the classroom or while doing homework, does it mean they’re not learning?
Mark Rapport is director of the Children’s Learning Clinic at UCF. His research, dubbed “squirm to learn,” finds wiggling may actually help kids learn.
RAPPORT: What we have with kids with ADHD, there's two real phenomenon: one is their brains in a majority of children are somewhat under developed – their younger brains. There's nothing the matter with them, but they lag by about two to two and a half years, especially in the frontal prefrontal areas.
The other is that they have more slow-wave activity. We understand that from E. E. G. studies. So they are basically under aroused. All people move more to maintain alertness. Kids with ADHD have to move about twice as much as the average person to maintain the same level of alertness.
So in the studies what we found is that when they're moving the most they're actually doing the best cognitively.
WELCH: Getting an ADHD kid to sit still and focus is that actually counterproductive?
RAPPORT: The focusing isn't counterproductive. But if we use behavioral techniques, which we typically do that's one of the empirically supported treatments for ADHD, and if it focuses on reducing activity that would probably be counterproductive. I think the better thing to do, and many the teachers are using this and have discovered this as well as parents, is we have them sit on activity balls on different kind movement chairs. We give them things where they can move their feet legs as long as it's not being disruptive to the class.
WELCH: And so what can parents do while their child is getting ready to do homework?
RAPPORT: I've had people tell me for example that have a stationary bike. When the child has to read for half an hour they get on the stationary bike and they're peddling away while they’re reading, for example.
It’s always important to have one place where the child does homework so it’s not the same place where they're playing with the computer games. Ideally you'd want something that’s not a hard chair, like in many the classrooms. Parents will say they do better if they're standing up doing the homework, that's fine that's absolutely fine.
And I would shorten duration depending upon the child's age.
WELCH: When kids are learning why do they wiggle? Is a part of their brain being activated or needing to function that is not necessarily the case when they're doing other things?
RAPPROT: When they're watching things, fun things, watching movies, exciting things, it doesn't require a lot of brain activation. You’re really observing and enjoying. And if you try to hold on to the information you'll miss the good parts the movie.
During instruction you're constantly uploading to working memory and so on. And you need a lot more arousal and anger to maintain your attention. So in our previous study what we found is that all kids, even typically developing kids, match same age same IQ as ADD kids they all move more when they're doing academic kind and cognitive activities as opposed to just fun activities.
Everyone moves more. Imagine for the adults listening out there in a conference room or in a meeting or something. Especially if the speaker is a little bit boring, for example, you'll find yourself moving your legs your feet or you'll fidget or take notes or doodle. Anything to maintain alertness to the situation.
People with ADHD, including adults, have to move more to get that same level of alertness in order that's required for the cognitive task.