Fidgeting May Help Kids with ADHD Focus

New study finds that movement may actually boost cognitive performance.

Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, are known to fidget in the classroom. That disruptive behavior likely isn't just a symptom, but may actually boost cognitive performance, a new study finds.

Researchers say that children with ADHD are unable to efficiently modulate their arousal systems, and movement helps them compensate for that deficit. Physical activity, like bouncing on a ball chair or even chewing gum, seems to allow these children to focus on difficult tasks, according to research from the University of California Davis MIND Institute.

Researchers did a trial-by-trial analysis of 26 teens and preteens diagnosed with ADHD, and a control group of 18 with typical development, looking at how the intensity and frequency of movement affected their ability to do tests that demanded focus.

With a device attached to their ankles, children's movements were measured as they did a "flanker test." The test required them to pay attention to the direction of a series of arrows and to disregard distractions. The ADHD students that showed the greatest degree of movement also showed the highest number of correct answers. There was no correlation between movement and cognition in children without the disorder.

The study suggests that teachers should find ways to incorporate movement in class to help children with ADHD to leverage their cognitive potential without disrupting other students.