By Margarita Nahapetyan
According to the new study by the University of Central Florida, children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) move around so much because this helps them better focus on challenging tasks like learning letters and numbers.
Kids with ADHD are likely to experience problems when it comes to sitting still while working on things that require the memory that is necessary for temporarily processing and manipulating information. Very often hyperactivity is being associated with lack of attention, but Mark Rapport, professor of psychology, wrote in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology that, in reality, the hyperactive behavior may actually be helpful for children with ADHD in order to better concentrate on the given task.
For the study, Dr. Rapport and his fellow colleagues examined twelve boys with ADHD, aged between 8 and 12 years, and compared them to eleven kids of the same age, but without the disorder. All children had to wear actigraphs, special devices that are sensitive to acceleration and are used to measure the frequency and intensity of a child's movement. The artigraphs were placed on every child's both ankles and on the wrist of the non-dominant hand, and were recording their movements 16 times per second, while children were allowed to play control and experimental games.
Control games included using Microsoft Paint to draw anything that children liked, which required very little use of working memory. The experimental task required the kids to take part in two memory games. In the first game, that included letters and numbers, the boys were randomly shown different numbers together with one capital letter for a very short time. Children then had to repeat the numbers in ascending order, and say the letter at the end. In the second game, kids were shown 9 squares, with a series of black and red dots appearing on the shapes for a very short time. Boys were then asked to recite the position of the dots in the same order they saw them on the squares.
The results showed that, in all of the tasks given, boys with ADHD were more physically active compared to the boys from the control group. However, kids in the both groups showed equal activity when it came to fulfilling the tasks related to their working memory. All young participants with or without the disorder were moving their hands and feet and swiveling around in their seats, and expressed more than a 2-fold increase in a hyperactivity during these tasks. Also, children in both groups sat relatively still while watching Star Wars and painting on a computer program.
Dr. Rapport and his team point out that kids with ADHD need to move more and be more active, in general, in order to maintain the needed level of alertness while fulfilling tasks that challenge their working memory. Working on math problems mentally and remembering multi-step directions are some of the tasks that require working memory, which, in turn, involves remembering and manipulating information for a short period of time. According to Rapport, it has been known for a long time that children with hyperactivity disorder tend to be much more active, compared to their peers, but why does it happen, has yet been unclear.
Children with ADHD use movement to keep themselves alert, explained the expert. "They have a hard time sitting still unless they are in a highly stimulating environment where they do not need to use much working memory." He also made a comparison between the children's behavior during the tests to adults' movements during long and boring meetings when they move around in their chairs in order to stay alert.
While the researchers were successful in linking the use of working memory with an increased physical activity for boys, they say that still more studies need to be conducted before the factor of hyperactivity can be defined with confidence. For instance, it might be very useful to investigate and analyze the relationship between the quality of performance and an increased hyperactivity, and it could also be helpful to monitor the activity of the brain during these experiments. Most obviously, the studies should involve girls, as well.