Children with ADHD Use Hyperactivity to Stay Alert

March 12, 2009

A new study from the University of Central Florida offers insight on the benefits children with ADHD might derive from their hyperactive behavior.

A new study from the University of Central Florida offers insight on the benefits children with ADHD might derive from their hyperactive behavior. According to psychology professor Mark D. Rapport, children with ADHD tend to move around more because it helps them complete challenging tasks. Rapport studied groups of 8-12-year-old boys, some with ADHD and others without, and found that “children with and without ADHD sat relatively still while watching Star Wars and painting on a computer program. All of the children became more active when they were required to remember and manipulate computer-generated letters, numbers and shapes for a short time. Children with ADHD became significantly more active—moving their hands and feet and swiveling in their chairs more—than their typically developing peers during those tasks.”

These results leave researchers to ponder whether or not these results indicate that children with ADHD used their above average movement to maintain alertness while posed with challenging tasks.

“We've known for years that children with ADHD are more active than their peers,” said Rapport. What we haven't known is why. [The children with ADHD] use movement to keep themselves alert. They have a hard time sitting still unless they're in a highly stimulating environment where they don't need to use much working memory.”

One of the immediate benefits of this study is the chance for physicians to explain to teachers and parents that it’s ok for children with ADHD to fidget while focusing on something, so long as they are not being destructive and distracting to others. Not letting children with ADHD chew gum or stand up while working on a homework assignment or chore can actually be counterproductive.

The study also suggests why stimulant medications are known to improve the behavior of children with ADHD, as the agents promote physiological arousal and increase alertness. Click here to read more about the study, which is also published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.