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Learning While Fidgeting: ADHD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Do you remember being a school child and having some difficulty sitting still after a certain amount of time? I certainly do. In fact, I remember the oncer per week assembly when I was in elementary school. It was required that we all sit up, feet flat on the floor and elbows off of the elbow rest. I never could understand the wisdom behind not being allowed to use the elbow rests to rest our elbows. But, the rule was strictly enforced. I had great difficulty with this because I wanted to fidget and so did all of my classmates. Worse than that, we had to pay attention. There were times when we were told things that we were required to repeat to our parents that evening. As much as I struggled to pay attention and remember, the message went by me with the speed of light. I often asked and even begged my classmates, after assembly, what the message was. Depending on whether they were in a mood to torture me or not, my friends just might repeat the message to me. You see, it is not that I forgot the message. Rather, I never heard the message. But, the worst part of the whole thing was being told to "sit still." Try as I might, I just could not. I had to fidget!

Even now, my wife will ask me, "why are you jiggling?" And my answer is always: "Uh, I don’t know."

I am now 66 years of age. When I was a child in elementary school, no one ever heard of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). To be specific, I had the ADD part of the problem with very little hyperacitivity (except for the jiggle), but just enough to get me in trouble by talking a little too much and feeling the need to put my elbows on the elbow rest. There were many instructions that I simply never heard and, therefore, got things wrong. It got to the point where I suspected that I might just be dumb. I was not dumb, but I had and still have ADD. At some point in my school life I learned to compenstate for my problems without realizing that this was what I was doing. In other words, with no diagnosis but a suspicion about myself that something was wrong, I taught myself ways to get and retain the informaton that I needed. That is how I got through graduate school with two Master’s degrees and a PhD.

A recent, small but significant study revealed the possibility that allowing ADHD kids to squirm is better for them than demanding that they sit still. Counter to the old school maxim, "sit still and pay attention," the study indicates that letting them squirm helps them pay attention. Mark Rapport, University of Central Florida School Psychology Professor, conducted a small study using 23 boys ages 8 to 12 and took 4 years to meticulously study them. His study yielded some interesting data.

First, children with ADD cannot follow complicated instructions. If you tell them to open their book to page twelve, do problems 4,5,9 and and do not do the rest of them, the ADD children will forget everything after open the book to page twelve. Assignments must be given in segments so that their working memory is not over taxed. In addition, allowing the fidgeting may actually help these kids focus their attention instead of demanding that they sit still.

Ahhh, I really believe that if I had  been allowed to jiggle away in elementary school I might have done a lot better by being better able to hear things.

Another recent study cited the fact that all elementary and middle school children perform better if they have had time during the day to get plenty of exercise.

Children with either ADD or ADHD are not stupid, lazy or unmotivated. They do not store memory in the same way others do and they need to be taught ways to help them remember what they must do. Teachers and parents have to help these kids learn how to compensate for these problems and keep in mind that these children are really not hearing or remembering compex instructions.

At the same time, all children need plenty of time to exercise and not just after school.

It seems that wiggling and exercising helps all of us improve our attention.

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

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