Hyperactivity and Concentration: A New Understanding of ADHD

A new study could alter the way educators, parents, and mental health professionals understand and treat attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD). Researchers in the University of Florida system have discovered that the incessant, undirected movements of “hyper” 8- to 12-year-old boys seem to actually help them to retain concentration and short-term memory better than if they are prevented from moving around.

In other words, when Johnny can’t sit still, he’s only doing what he needs to do in order to learn, and forcing him to stop may only decrease his retention while increasing his frustration—and the frustration of adults who expect him to learn in the same way as other children.

“When they are doing homework, let them fidget, stand up or chew gum,” study leader Mark Rapport, of the University of Central Florida, said in a statement. “We’ve known for years that children with ADHD are more active than their peers. What we haven’t known is why. They 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.”

This is why stimulant medications may help those with ADHD; they temporarily improve alertness and working memory in the same way fidgeting and pacing, for example, might.

Coincidentally, schools around the nation are following the example of a few schools in Minnesota, where children are working at taller desks that allow them to stand up or sit in tall stools while they work. This has improved performance, and the new Florida study offers an explanation and a justification for continuing this new, growing practice.

The study was published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

© Copyright 2009 by Daniel Brezenoff, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment

    March 17th, 2009 at 9:02 AM

    I’ve never thought of it that way before… I have always thought if they were too active and hyper… they weren’t paying attention to what they need to be paying attention to. Thanks for the article

  • Jason

    March 17th, 2009 at 12:20 PM

    Huh. . . what an interesting way to think about this. But it does make sense. Some kids have to learn by seeing, others by doing, some by feeling, etc. I guess that it only makes sense that there are those who learn best through movement. Hey if it keeps them alert and engaged then what is the problem? I know that some teachers will see this as disruptive to others but maybe that just means we need to all have a shift in the way we think about all kids and learning and striving to provide the very best learning environment for them all.

  • Asia

    March 17th, 2009 at 1:55 PM

    I guess that does make sense… Never thought of it neither… I’m glad that some ones has studied and pointed that out…I guess kids with ADHD has their own way of coping and learning

  • Aubrey

    March 18th, 2009 at 12:46 AM

    What a different way to look at ADHD children. I’m glad to see there are some schools leaning toward in helping children with ADHD by allowing them to stand or just let them be who they are.

  • Kylie

    March 18th, 2009 at 3:21 AM

    I always used to wonder why my nephew paced like a panther when he was trying to work out his Math. He has ADHD. I can relate to his coping with it the only way he knew.

  • Betty

    March 18th, 2009 at 6:46 AM

    This is great but we do have to look closely at what kind of classroom environment this will create for other children as well. Maybe a learner like this can thrive at home, but what about the anxiety that this could cause to others in the same classroom? What if there are students in there who need stillness and quiet in order to do their best? Is what they need going to be overlooked for the sake of one child’s need to move? How on earth is a teacher supposed to do what he or she needs to do to help all of the syudents learn when faced with these types of disruptive behaviors?

  • Gretchen

    March 19th, 2009 at 3:22 AM

    I can see where Betty is coming from. I bet many children would be distracted, but i also wander if the other children would become used to this after awhile.

  • Sammantha

    March 19th, 2009 at 7:17 AM

    I think if pacing and walking back and forth helps these children do their school work, it should be allowed. Each child is different and if it works, I see no problem with it.

  • Amy

    March 20th, 2009 at 4:32 AM

    Kids are given too many meds anyway. Why not try something else? If it makes a difference to allow them to move around while in the classroom and raises the level at which they can perform then why not give them the chance to do that? There are just too many people, educators included, who think that there is only one way to learn and that this is all that will do. That is just not true! there are multiple learning styles out there and we have to do our best to teach to them all. Is it hard? Of course. But it is in the best interests of kids anywhere to recognize these differences and find a way to play to them all.

  • Kara

    March 20th, 2009 at 2:36 PM

    I think Amy said it best.. Let the kids be who they are and try to find other ways, if possible, to treat ADHD or any other illness with other methods. If kids can learn better and do better by being active, let them.

  • hannah

    March 21st, 2009 at 9:38 AM

    I’m glad to see someone is addressing the characteristics of children with ADHD. My son has ADHD and that is how he deals and copes, by fidgeting, moving around and such. I do have to watch what i feed him, and he seems to do very well in school

  • Ruth

    March 22nd, 2009 at 8:23 PM

    Betty, I do think you have a point. Bigger kids and teenagers would be more understanding and will be able to get used to it in a while. Smaller children, especially upto the age 7 or 8 would definitely find this not only distracting, but might carry the behaviour home as they tend to copy each other a lot at this age.

  • Steve

    March 23rd, 2009 at 3:37 AM

    I was diagnosed with ADD in high school and never had medication but it just caused my parents to ride my behind even more. I never did well in school, never liked classes, only the hanging out with friends aspect. i know now that if I have kids of my own one day and they are diagnosed with this then I am going to try everything under the sun to make sure that they learn and do well despite the diagnosis. I never really had the ability to concentrate, or when I did I would over focus which is just as bad, and I do not want my own kids to have such a miserable school experience as I did as a result of this and not ever being given the skills to cope with it.


    March 23rd, 2009 at 6:14 AM

    I think the problem is deeper than has been so far discussed here. Schools are not designed to meet the needs of children or create lifetime learners; they are designed to create obedient people with a modicum of intelligence who can work on a schedule, regurgitate information, carry out assigned tasks, and solve minor cognitive problems with little reward. In other words, they’re designed to create employees for the capitalist machine.

    As long as we subject children to this environment – “learning” at desks, being forced to stay on task and sit still, rote memorization, obedience to strangers, following arbitrary rules, performing on command, lacking choice about what subjects to pursue, and suppressing their natural tendencies to run, play, talk, investigate, follow their desires, interact spontaneously, etc. – we will produce miserable, rebellious, confused youths, ADHD or not.

    Schools reflect our society’s soul, and it is dis-eased.

  • Maureen

    March 24th, 2009 at 1:57 AM

    I think the issue is letting children with ADHD stay focussed through hyper-activity. What is diseased is not the schools but people. Education is a fabric that makes a man!! whether we like it or not.

  • tecumseh

    March 24th, 2009 at 7:25 AM

    “What is diseased is not the schools but people.”

    Maureen, I couldnt disagree more. When we pathologize children and ignore the sickness in our institutions, we make our institutions more important than our souls, and we create children full of self-doubt, good at obeying orders but terrible at thinking for themselves.

    Almost everyone loathes going to school. It’s an obligation, rarely a joy. Why do we subject our children to such torment? Why are schools based on the same model used by GERMAN FACTORIES in the 19th century?!?! Why can’t we “educate” children in a way that respects their natrual inclinations, instead of forcing them to behave like automotons? Whom does that benefit, other than the corporate managers waiting to put us to work when we mature?

    Our educational system hasnt been truly revamped since its inception in the 1800’s! Teachers are overworked, children are compelled to act like servants, and our society’s intelligence is rapidly declining.

    Our children in their natural state are fine; it’s the schools that are sick. We should create systems that meet human needs, instead of trying to force humans to meet the needs of our systems!

  • RaiulBaztepo

    March 28th, 2009 at 2:09 PM

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  • maggie

    April 6th, 2009 at 3:59 AM

    I agree that schools should update their system to allow children with ADHD to use their hyper activity to focus but also in a way that doesn’t interfere with other children’s concentration

  • Betsy Davenport, PhD

    August 3rd, 2009 at 2:16 PM

    This study verifies what many of us have intuited. It is very difficult – and often impossible, if one’s brain will not control itself in the usual ways, to conform to the expectations of the culture, which includes schools.

    It is painful for people with AD/HD to be unable to harness their intellect and bring it to bear on whatever task is at hand. The fact that AD/HD is a contextual problem — that is, factors external to the person dictate how symptomatic the person will be — makes it difficult for many teachers, parents and others to “believe” it, to understand it and to be willing to make some rudimentary accommodations to permit people (kids and adults, both) to function as effectively as they might, were the conditions more propitious.

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