Parents and teachers who tell kids with ADHD to sit still and focus may have it all wrong. So report University of Central Florida researchers, who conclude in the latest issue of the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology that the kids they tested with ADHD performed better on cognitive tests when moving around. (Kids without ADHD who also moved a lot performed worse.) "The typical interventions target reducing hyperactivity," one of the study's authors says. "It’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing for a majority of children with ADHD. The message isn’t 'Let them run around the room,' but you need to be able to facilitate their movement so they can maintain the level of alertness necessary for cognitive activities."
The researchers studied 52 boys ages 8 to 12—29 with ADHD and 23 with no clinical disorders—as they performed tasks that tested their working memory. While previous research has shown that kids with ADHD are actually only hyperactive when using executive brain functions like working memory, this study suggests that it's in fact an imperative, that they "have to move to maintain alertness," the author says. The researchers go so far as to suggest that most kids with ADHD be allowed to study on activity balls or exercise bikes. (Meanwhile, roughly one in 13 kids in the US is being prescribed behavioral meds.)