Kids who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — or ADHD — can be a little restless. Hyperactivity is right in the name of the condition, after all. But is this restlessness a symptom of ADHD, or a tool kids can use to focus their energy?

A new study, from researchers at the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis found that kids with ADHD actually concentrate better when they are allowed to fidget. Researchers think that rather than merely being another symptom of ADHD, the constant movement that often accompanies the condition may actually help kids think.

Past research has shown that kids with ADHD do better in school if they are allowed to take numerous breaks for physical activity throughout the day. But the focus of these efforts has been to redirect the need for constant movement, rather than utilize it in the classroom.

Julie Schweitzer, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis and a senior author of the new study decided to take a closer look at why kids with ADHD were so hyperactive in the first place. After running through a series of tests, Schweitzer and her team found that when kids with ADHD are allowed to fidget, they actually performed better on academics — especially during tests. What's more, researchers found that when the kids with ADHD were asked to still still, their responses on tests were more likely to be incorrect. Schweitzer's study involved around 50 kids between the ages of 10 and 17, about half of whom had been independently diagnosed with ADHD.

“Parents and teachers need to stop telling children [with ADHD] to sit still,” said Schweitzer. “We know that some activity can be disruptive to others, but we need to find ways to make it less conspicuous and to integrate socially appropriate ways of moving.”

So rather than just allowing kids to take more active breaks throughout the day — although these are also helpful — this new research suggests that it pays for schools to find more ways to incorporate movement in the classroom. Some ideas include standing desks, exercise balls, rocking chairs or resistance bands. Squishy balls and Silly Putty don't work the legs, but the do offer an outlet for movement that may be less distracting to other students.

These tools may help provide a means for kids with ADHD to keep their bodies moving and their minds sharp and ready to learn.

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