Pediatric therapist says ADHD rising because kids don’t move their bodies enough; says they need to play outside

The percentage of children diagnosed with attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is on the rise. While many reasons are mentioned, one that is not heard often is the length of time children are forced to sit while they are in school, writes Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, in the TimberNook blog, which was picked up by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post.

Kentucky leads the nation in the percentage of children with a current diagnosis of ADHD, at 14.8 percent, a jump from 10.2 percent diagnosed in 2007, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An even higher 19 percent of Kentucky children ages 4-17, compared to 11 percent nationally, have ever been diagnosed with ADHD at some point. (CDC map)

Reasons given for this rise in diagnosis include changes in “diagnostic criteria, medication treatment and more awareness of the condition,” Strauss writes. Over-diagnosis, genetic predisposition and “financial incentives” that can go along with an ADHD diagnosis are other possible reasons for this increase in diagnosis, reports Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal.

Hanscom says the amount of time children are forced to sit while they are in school is also a contributing factor. She reflects in her article about a recent phone call from a parent of a 6-year-old whose self-esteem is being crushed because he is told every day at school that his behavior isn’t good enough simply because he can’s sit for long periods of time. She also writes about a local elementary teacher who told her that “at least eight of her 22 students have trouble paying attention on a good day.”

The problem, Hanscom writes, is that “Children are constantly in an upright position these days” and are not moving their bodies enough.

Hanscom writes about her recent observations of a fifth-grade classroom where she found fidgeting, kids tilting chairs, kids rocking their bodies back and forth and one child hitting a water bottle against her head in a rhythmic pattern. She writes, “This was not a special-needs classroom, but a typical classroom at a popular, art-integrated charter school.”

She noted that some of this behavior could have been because it was the end of the day, but she also did testing on the students’ core strength and balance in several of the classrooms and found it to be poor, with “only one” out of 12 of the students having normal strength and balance when compared to children from the early 1980s.

Hanscom says children have underdeveloped balance systems today because of so much restricted movement. To develop a strong balance system, she says, children need to move their bodies in all directions for hours at a time daily.

Children often fidget in the classroom to get the movement their bodies need, which helps to “turn their brain on.” But, subsequently the fidgeting gets them in trouble and so when they sit still as required, their brains “turn off,” Hanscom writes. “Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before.”

Hanscom suggests that the solution is to fix the underlying issues: put recess back into our schools and let kids play outside for hours when they get home from school, and “20 minutes of movement a day is not enough! In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.”

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