Neurology Central

Study suggests that fidgeting could have beneficial effects on children with ADHD

New research carried out at Florida State University’s Children’s Learning Clinic (FL, USA) by Michael Kofler and his team (Florida State University) has shown that children often fidget when they are attempting to solve a problem, and that movement might have a cognitive benefit in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Children with ADHD have been shown to have deficits in the ‘working’ component of working memory; they are able to retain information that they use on a daily basis but often have difficulty updating or rearranging information in the mind.

Previous work had indicated a link between increased movement and performance on working memory tests, however whether this was a product of ‘hyperactive’ movement was unknown.

In order to test the theory that ‘hyperactive’ movement helps working memory in children with ADHD, Kofler studied 25 children with the disorder, made up of both boys and girls aged 8–12, and carried out a series of working memory tasks that differed only in memory set predictability.

The initial test examined student’s ability to remember where a series of dots appeared on their screen, after which they were asked to mentally reorder them based on their color. The second test involved remembering a series of letters and numbers, and again reordering them based on a predetermined pattern.

The number of items in each test varied from three to six, allowing for increased complexity in the assessment. Predictability of difficulty also differed with each test; in the less difficult version the children were told how many items they had to remember before completing the assessment, whereas the difficult version had varying amounts of information to remember and in random orders.

The study showed that the children moved during all of the tests, but fidgeted up to 25% more when they couldn’t predict how many items they had to remember. As these tests only differed in memory set predictability this is the first study to show a cause-and-effect relationship between working memory and ADHD behavioral symptoms.

Lead author Micahel Kofler stated: “Our work keeps pointing to working memory,”. “It affects their [the children’s]attention, their impulse control, their school success, their social interactions and now their hyperactivity. So we’re going to try and improve working memory. This is a challenge, but if we’re successful, we should see better attention and impulse control, and they shouldn’t have to move as much.”

Source: Florida State University press release; Kofler MJ, Sarver DE, Wells EL. Working Memory and Increased Activity Level (Hyperactivity) in ADHD: Experimental Evidence for a Functional Relation. J. Atten. Disord. doi:10.1177/1087054715608439 (2015) (Epub ahead of print).