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Fidgeting and ADHD

Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World

Published: 2015-07-28 : (Rev. 2017-10-20)


Information regarding various types of fidgeting and ADHD.

Main Digest

Exercise scientists have studied fidgeting for greater than two decades. People who fidget are restless and unable to sit still. They wiggle in their chair, pace as they wait for the bus and fiddle and twist as they stand in line. A scientist who studies the genetics of fitness and fidgeting, Claude Bouchard, discovered that some people move more than others and that the tendency toward additional movement is determined by genetics. Claude even discovered that fraternal twins do not move the same amount. Claude's conclusion is that some people are programmed to move more than others.

Fidgeting is defined as the act of moving about restlessly. Fidgeting may be a result of nervousness, agitation, boredom or a combination of these. It may be a result of genes and is often an unconscious act. Fidgeting may involve playing with one's fingers, hair, or items of clothing. A common act of fidgeting is to bounce one's leg repeatedly. Fidgeting can be a medical sign, as seen in hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroid patients may be restless, become agitated easily, display fine tremors, and have trouble concentrating. Fidgeting in children is sometimes a sign of hyperactivity or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but it's not always a bad thing. Fidgeting is an unconscious act. Most people who fidget are unaware they are doing it.

Doctor James Levine is a physician who studies fidgeting and physical activity. James has confirmed that heavy people sit more than lean people. In one study, James found that people who are obese sat 9.5 hours each day, while lean people sat less than 7 hours per day. The question then becomes, 'do people who are obese move less than lean people because they are heavier, or are they heavier because they move less' A number of scientists think it is a combination of both and most agree that some people are genetically programmed to spontaneously move more than others. While observing patterns of people around you, as well as your own, you will soon see that some people do indeed move more spontaneously than others.

We are taught that we need to sit still and concentrate on one thing when we are writing, studying, working or engaging in other activities. Yet for people with ADHD, those things usually do not work. They are particularly ineffective when a person with ADHD need to focus on mundane or tedious tasks. People with ADHD often times work best when they are doing something else as well.

In a book titled, 'Fidget to Focus, Outwit Your Boredom: Sensory Strategies for Living with ADHD,' authors Sarah D. Wright, MS, ACT and Roland Rotz, Ph.D. share a number of practical tools that have helped their clients, support group members and others with ADHD. According to Sarah and Roland, "Fidgets are simultaneously sensory-motor stimulation strategies, the four S's. If something we are engaged in is not interesting enough to sustain our focus, the additional sensory-motor input that is mildly stimulating, interesting, or entertaining allows our brains to become fully engaged and allows us to sustain focus on the primary activity in which we are participating."

For example; a college student with ADHD read while walking around or standing up. He also read aloud in the park. A wife with ADHD started taking morning walks with her husband because it helped her to focus on their conversations. A man with ADHD began listening to a tape with white noise as he worked at a car wash. After a month's time, his income grew by 25%. An emergency room doctor with ADHD discovered that chewing gum improved his focus.

An effective fidget is respectful to others in that it is not distracting to others and arousing enough to activate the brain to sustain interest where it could not before. Different tasks will require different fidgets. It is important to choose fidgets that do not compete with the task to be completed. Rotz and Wright list the fidgets based on modality; everything from visual fidgets to auditory ones. What follows are examples of each modality from the book, 'Fidget to Focus.'

Mouth: Mouth fidgeting strategies can help you as you work and read. Strategies include sipping coffee or water, chewing gum, or biting your lips or cheek.

Sound: Sound fidgets include listening to something as you are performing tasks like talking or reading. They also include listening to music, listening to a ticking clock, humming, singing or whistling and hearing background noise.

Movement: Movement tips involve moving your body as you are attempting to concentrate on tasks such as listening or studying. Movement fidgeting can include exercising, pacing, standing, tapping a pen, wiggling your toes, or swiveling in a chair.

Touch: Touch fidgeting strategies involve feeling, holding or handling something as you are listening or talking. The strategies include playing with your hair, using fidget toys such as a slinky or balls, fiddling with your keys, doodling, taking notes, playing with paper and knitting.

Taste: Taste fidgeting strategies use flavors, textures and temperatures of drinks and foods to help you focus on listening, reading and working. The strategies also include eating chewy snacks, eating or licking different flavors such as sour, spicy or salty foods. You might also drink hot or cold beverages.

Sight: Visual fidgeting strategies are about noticing details in the person's surroundings, or watching something while performing the task. Examples include using colorful tools such as bright folders, pens or highlighters, glancing out the window, watching a fish tank or water, as well as looking at the flame in a fireplace.

Smell: Strategies that involve the sense of smell are not used as much as others. Yet because it is linked to the emotional center of the brain, our sense of sell may trigger emotional reactions which are themselves stimulation strategies. Smell strategies include burning incense or scented candles. They also include aromatherapy and freshly baked foods such as cinnamon rolls.

Rotz and Wright stress how important it is to give yourself permission to fidget without shame and finding the unique strategies that work for you. Julie Schweitzer, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the MIND Institute of the University of California, Davis stated, "What I suspect is that kids with ADHD are moving to increase their attention by activating their arousal system. Being aroused does increase attention."

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