Friday Factoids: Does the “H” in ADHD Really Impair Learning?

Recent models of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have challenged the notion that excess gross motor activity (hyperactivity) impedes learning with children diagnosed with ADHD.  Rather, newer models argue that excess motor activity may be compensatory.


A recent study conducted by Saver, Rapport, Kofler, Raiker, and Friedman (2015) compared 29 boys diagnosed with ADHD to 23 boys with no psychiatric diagnosis on a series of working memory tasks (i.e., participants were shown numbers and letters on a computer screen and asked to order them, while being recorded on a high speed camera for later behavior/movement coding).  The data indicated higher rates of gross motor activity positively predicted phonological working memory performance in children with ADHD.  Such was not seen in children with no psychiatric diagnoses.  In fact, boys with no ADHD diagnosis with increased movement performed more poorly on the cognitive tasks.  Thus, indicating a link between hyperactivity and task performance in children with ADHD.


Saver et al. (2015) conclude that excess movements are necessary to how children with ADHD remember information and process cognitive tasks.  The implications here are vital to recommendations given specific to behavioral intervention and current classroom management of behavior for children with ADHD.  In that, if these findings are confirmed, the authors caution against overcorrecting excess gross motor activity for children with ADHD.   Such activity may even be reinforced during select academic tasks.  Of course, the authors do not recommend allowing extreme movements (e.g., running around the room); rather they argue to facilitate movement in order to maintain alertness to complete cognitive tasks (University of Central Florida, 2015).


These findings implicate that past behavior plans and expectations/goals of reduced activity may be misguided, instead movement perhaps should be permitted in order to maintain alertness.  Overall, data support a new conceptualization that gross motor activity may facilitate cognitive functioning for children with ADHD, rather than impair it.  This research is limited by only sampling boys ages 8-12.  It is further limited by only assessing phonologically based activity; future research is anticipated to look at the impact of hyperactive movement in relation to visuospatial working memory (Saver, Rapport, Kofler, Raiker, & Friedman, 2015).  Overall, these finding again support new models of ADHD that conceptualize excess motor activity as compensatory.


Sarver, D. E., Rapport, M. D., Kofler, M. J., Raiker, J. S., & Friedman, L. M. (2015). Hyperactivity in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Impairing deficit or compensatory behavior? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Advanced online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10802-015-0011-1


University of central Florida. (2015). Kids with ADHD must squirm to learn, study says. Retrieved from


Dannie S. Harris, M.A., M.A., M.A.Ed., Ed.S.
WKPIC Practicum Trainee

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