Let the Wiggly Kids Wiggle

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Children sitting in groups according to
Photo: Allan Grant/Time Life Pictures

Some kids just need to fidget, and it may be best if their parents and teachers let them do so. Children with ADHD performed better on tests when they were allowed to wiggle around as they worked, according to a pair of new studies recently covered by The Wall Street Journal.

In one study, a group of kids, some of whom had ADHD and some of whom didn’t, took tests that were intended to measure their working memory, meaning their ability to hold information in mind and apply it to some activity or task (such as solving a math problem). As the children took their tests, they sat in swivel chairs, and if you have ever seen or been a kid in a swivel chair, you know that these things are essentially miniature merry-go-rounds: The temptation for wiggling is great.

The researchers monitored how much the children swirled around in their chairs, and found that the kids with ADHD did better on their tests the more they moved. For children without ADHD, however, the opposite happened — more swiveling meant lower scores. A second study also involved working-memory tests, this time on a computer, and as with the other study, researchers observed and recorded the kids’ wiggles. Again, for the ADHD kids, fidgeting led to better performance on tests, but the researchers found no effect either way for the kids without ADHD.

Certain regions of ADHD children’s brains are less active than those of typically developing children,” WSJ writer Sumathi Reddy explains. “Physical movement is believed to increase that activity, helping to boost cognitive performance.” For typically developing children, on the other hand, moving around too much may push their brains past the point of “optimal arousal,” Reddi writes. Sitting still may be best for some kids, but it may not be for everybody.