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ADHD Students – Should they Fidget?

Homepage Forums Brain-Based Learning Q&A ADHD Students – Should they Fidget?

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    • #64762
      AvatarBryan Harris

      If you have ever taught an ADHD student, you know the challenge.

      They seem to move and fidget so much it can become a huge distraction in the classroom. Certainly all that movement can distract other students. But, what is the impact of that fidgeting on the ADHD student? Could it be that fidgeting helps them to focus?

      There is some interesting research that is sparking some great conversations. You can read more at the link below. While a lot more research is likely to take place, our take home message is this: don’t stop the fidgeting… may be helping ADHD students to focus.


    • #69625

      This is a very interesting problem and one I face daily as a teacher. I teach Kindergarten and there are many children who are extremely hyper, but not necessarily ADHD. While those children struggle to stay on task, some of my other students can easily perform tasks with the focus of a 3rd or 4th grader. At times it is difficult not only to plan the type of lesson that engages both types of students but it also difficult to assess their thinking process and academic achievement when they are so different. Sometimes I feel that my less active students are missing out because so much emphasis is put on making active engaging lessons. This can cause conflicting feelings for me as a teacher, because when I think of what skills my students truly need to be successful in college one is academic stamina. This is something that was extremely difficult for me when I was starting college and I am not sure we are preparing our students in this way. I want my lessons to be fun and engaging, but I also do not want to do that at the expense of college readiness.

    • #69636
      AvatarBryan Harris

      Thanks, Elizabeth. You have accurately described something every primary teacher struggles with – how to focus student energy while maintaining an academic focus. Here are a couple of ideas and strategies:
      *Breaks are critical. No one, regardless of age, can maintain an unlimited focus on a task. You know this, of course, but its a good reminder that the brain needs rest. Focus and concentration use up the brain’s resources – oxygen and glucose. When those run low, they need to be replenished. Movement, breaks, and snacks are important.
      *Start small with games like Simon Says, Concentration, classic board games, etc. Those tasks build patience, self-control, and stamina. Focus and attention is a skill. When building any skill (especially with little ones) we want to make it fun and enjoyable. If building a skill becomes a painful chore, we’ll all avoid it. Then start to show kids how self-control when playing a game is similar to the self-control they need to have when focusing on a school task or controlling their body. “Remember when you patiently waited your turn to play kick ball? You really, really wanted to go next but there were two students in front of you. Do you remember that? Well, waiting your turn to play a game is a little like ……”
      *Consider doing a room check as well. Take a look around your classroom and consider the stimuli in the room – the decorations, the seating arrangements, the traffic flow. It can be hard to focus and control oneself when there are so many “hot” cues in the environment. A hot cue is something that calls for attention. I’m not suggesting a sterile environment, far from it. It is just a good reminder that environments matter a lot when it comes to self-control and fidgety behaviors.

      – Bryan

    • #70977
      AvatarRicky Chan

      About 3 years ago, I participated in a primary school teacher’s (1st Grade) class in which all 15 students were diagnosed as SEN (Special Education Need) cases. Some were ASD, ADHD, ADD, Aspergers,…. When the teacher asked them to stand up, read the paragraph and do actions accordingly, about half of the class did it in the very beginning, especially the ADHD kids, but the ADD, ASD kids joined the activity finally as they started paying attention while others doing the action for about a minute. Eventually, the activity had 100% engagement. Therefore I think it’s important for teacher to provide opportunities for kids (no matter they’re ADD, ADHD or Gifted) to have movement (more than 1 minute) during the lesson in between the reading and listening activities for managing their state.

    • #72024

      I agree Bryan and Ricky that engagement activities are very helpful for all students, especially those with ADHD. One problem I see as I observe in primary or elementary classrooms is the use of off topic “brain-breaks” like gonoodle clips. While fun and upbeat, I do notice that some students find if difficult to get back to the topic of the lesson when these interrupt the learning as a way of allowing students to ‘fidget’. Would love to know what your thoughts are about use of these tools in the midst of a lesson.

    • #72070
      AvatarRicky Chan

      We will use another type of “brain-breaks” to change their “high” state. For example: all heads down and cross arm (close state) to memorize the lyrics of the song or other contents; all sit down and read the passage quietly for 1 minute; find at least 5 special areas from a powerpoint slide; count down from 10 to 0 as well as lowering the voice level in descending order, etc.

    • #72316
      AvatarLeAnn Nickelsen

      I love this conversation. Movement is powerful and should happen often. I wrote an article within this site called: Get Your Kids Moving. The many benefits during the classroom are listed. I agree with Dr. Turner’s comments about Go Noodle, Tabata (ClassFit4Kids), and other fun brain breaks – many children have a hard time adjusting back to the lesson when done during a lesson. I have found those longer, fun brain-breaks to be very effective in between lessons or during transition times. Smaller, more relevant movements should happen during the lesson such as: students moving into a new grouping situation (cooperative learning); sorting words or shapes relevant to the learning target; acting out vocabulary words from the lesson; rotating through rotation stations or centers; moving through writing feedback stations; human continuum created along the wall based on student opinions; “stand up if you agree with…”; Kagan’s famous Mix-Freeze-Group activity; “build a ______”; use the math manipulatives to show the following equation; and so many more ideas. They are short, sweet movements that take students from one activity to another all supporting the learning target for that lesson.

    • #72459
      AvatarRicky Chan

      We’re also doing EEG brainwave scan for SEN (Special Educational Need) kids. We found that nearly all ADHD kids we served have serious physical stress condition that might caused by high adrenaline level. Therefore relaxing, slow physical movement that trigger the release of serotonin may help, not only quick moving physical movement.

    • #72466

      Very thankful reading and gathering more ideas from Bryan, Elizabeth, Ricky, Dr. Turner and LeAnn on the caption topic.

      My first encounter with ADHD students dated back 28 years ago at my first job teaching primary students. There was a boy, whom no matter I talked to him nicely or scored or punished him, he was unable to sit still in class and sometimes even crawl under the table during lessons. At that time I have very limited understanding on ADHD kid, so my conclusion at that stage was he deliberately disrespected me or he was trying to seek attention in class. Later I became a secondary school teacher of a girls school for 4 years while occasionally, noticing not only boys, but some girls fidget in class too. That was still very puzzling to me.

      I gained my greatest breakthrough on understanding on ADHD students when during Eric & Diane’s Brain Expo listened to Dr. Daniel Amen’s talk, where he showed SPECT scan of ADHD cases, that those suffering may have their Pre-frontal Cortex impaired. I realized that fidgeting is a symptom beyond ADHD persons’ control.

      Hence my way of acceptance and how I handled the situation has made a leap turn.
      Adding a link with useful idea on this topic:

      Will share your ideas with more educators, parents and those with ADHD, thank you!!

    • #72605

      Great responses. Thanks! I have just posted an article, “ADHD: what to know, what to do” lists the specific definition from the DSM V and the with a long list of practical suggestions for teachers. I also wanted to refer to the PATS study that I read about at
      The Preschool ADHD Treatment Study (PATS): What You Need to Know
      Sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, and conducted by a consortium of researchers at six sites, PATS is the first long-term, comprehensive study of treating preschoolers with ADHD. The study included more than 300 three- to five-year-olds with severe ADHD (hyperactive/impulsive, inattentive, or combined type). Most exhibited a history of early school expulsion and extreme peer rejection.
      Stage 1: Parent Training
      Ten-week parent training course in behavior modification techniques, such as offering consistent praise, ignoring negative behavior, and using time-outs.
      Stage 2: Medication (such as Ritalin; side effects)
      Notable findings
      Lower doses of medication were required to reduce ADHD symptoms in preschoolers, compared to elementary school children.
      Eleven percent ultimately stopped treatment, despite improvements in ADHD symptoms, due to moderate to severe side effects, such as appetite reduction, insomnia, and anxiety. Preschoolers appear to be more prone to side effects than elementary schoolers.
      Medication appeared to slow preschooler growth rates. Children in the study grew half an inch less and weighed three pounds less than expected. A five-year follow-up study is looking at long-term growth rate changes. Look for preliminary results in 2009.
      Bottom line
      Preschoolers with severe ADHD experience marked reduction in symptoms when treated with behavior modification only (one third of those in the study) or a combination of behavior modification and low doses of methylphenidate (two thirds of those in the study). Although medication was found to be generally effective and safe, close monitoring for side effects is recommended.
      For more information on the Preschool ADHD Treatment Study: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, November 2006. (, National Institute of Mental Health, (

    • #72620
      AvatarCraig Carson

      You pose a great question that we wrestle with everyday around the district. Just like Elizabeth, our kindergarten teachers want to do what is best, but they are often perplexed as to how to actively engage some students while giving time for contemplation or silent engagement for others. The quandary is real for grades 1 – 12 as well. Many of the statements you, Ricky, Margo, Anson, and LeAnn make are so applicable to our conversations.

      Challenge: Teachers get anxious about trying to meet all the needs of all the learners. Often our teachers are so impassioned for each child’s learning, they stress out and can overload themselves. Obviously, we want to provide the very best learning environment as possible, but we have to do that all the while keeping the sanity of students and teachers in mind. As mentioned above, a quick GoNoodle in the middle of a lesson can hurt cognition more than help it. We want students to be in a better state of learning than when we attempted to do the brain break. And, in the world of walkthrough evaluation, many districts rate teachers on student engagement. Potentially, brain breaks can be “thrown in” with the purpose of evaluation scores instead of purposeful cognition.

      Possible Solutions;
      1. Practice the 10/2 rule or the 7 min. rule—whatever combination works best for the age student in the particular context. For every 10 minutes of direct attention, provide at least 2 minutes of indirection attention or processing. The processing and reflection can be in multiple facets: alone as some type of response, any type of partners/groups, and including movement of some type or stay in the same position. It is more of a shift of attention from purposefully external to intentionally internal attention / processing; connecting / reflecting.
      2. Processing with movement—use some type of cooperative learning strategy or engagement strategy to have the students move around and process the content. It could be as simple as the Kagan strategy—stand up, hand up, pair up—or some kind of “turn to.” The purposes are to get oxygen flowing, increasing the flow of socialization and content, and to use the engagement WITH content. At the end of the break from direct attention, students should be ready to attune to the next part of the content.
      3. Brain breaks as a transition tool—during the lesson when students are shifting content or activities, we ask teachers to use things like GoNoodle and other quick type activities to signal a cognitive shift or allow for fun and movement. These are relatively short and add to the energy of the room, provide some figit time, and prepare the students physically to maintain energy for the next learning activity. These could also be fun working memory activities that exercise the students ability to concentrate or ability to follow directions.

      This short Edutopia article is a good one to share with teachers who are looking for some ideas that are not hard to implement and leave the students in a better state for learning.

      I look forward to reading other ideas that you all have to share with our teachers.

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