In response to a recent media inquiry about wiggling (I love that word), I offered the following responses. I'm sharing them here because most of what I've learned on the topic has come from the many wise parents and clinicians who've attended my workshops and shared with me. Thanks!
What do you know about a parent's frustration with wiggly kids?
When a child - or any person for that matter- is moving near me and i can hear or see or feel that movement, it distracts me and as a parent I worry it will distract others. I don't want my child to "stand out" in a negative way, and i don't want him/her to miss educational opportunities because they're off task
Why are they often frustrated with their inability to sit still especially when doing homework or another task that requires concentration?
All of us need a certain amount of sensory information to feel grounded and "just right." Too much sensory data feels overwhelming, and too little feels weird too. For those of us who are "neurotypical" - wired like everyone else - we can tolerate most typical sensory experiences in the classroom or workplace and just a little bit of re-positioning in the seat or self-stimulating behavior (clicking a ballpoint pen) will be enough. Students who are not neurotypical may need more movement or stimulation than the rest of us. But that movement serves the same purpose - to help the student feel alert and grounded and right side up.
Why do some kids need to wiggle/move constantly? Can an argument be made that it helps them focus?
Absolutely. And probably the best case for just that has been made by author Sarah Wright in her book "Fidget to Focus." You can read more here. Again, some measure of wiggling serves a purpose for all of us. The fact that someone does it "more" than I do doesn't mean it serves a different purpose.
What is the typical result of a parent telling their child to stop wiggling?
Many adults with ADD/ADHD will tell me that in fact they have learned to decrease wiggly behaviors. But they are quick to add that "my mind is still bouncing all around the room, I haven't heard a word you've said in the past 5 minutes." So, you might be able to teach someone to stop wiggling their body...but that does not mean they are engaged in on-task goal-directed behaviors.
How would you suggest a parent approach this situation? I encourage parents to think long-term, and consider what skills their child will need in order to become a healthy well-adjusted 26 year old. Most young adults, for example, are able to take turns in conversation, to weigh the pros and cons of behavioral options, and plan ahead for longer term goals. In terms of wiggling, it's not necessarily enough to suggest that "healthy young adults don't wiggle." Because, again, many adults with ADHD have learned how to inhibit wiggling while the need for self-stimulation and arousal maintenance is still there.
So rather than focusing on "decreasing the wiggly behavior," I'd rather focus on identifying what purpose the wiggling serves. If in fact wiggling serves the purpose of keeping the student's brain alert and on-target, then let's find a tool kit of several sensory strategies to serve just that purpose.
In other words, don't just take their wiggling away from them; find out what it's for and give them more of what they need. Tips include considering a T-stool or gel cushion or squishy toy. If your son or daughter's school has an occupational therapist, you might consider a consultation with that clinician for more sensory-based interventions to enhance focus.
What are your best strategies for managing - and making use of - wiggling?