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Simple moves to beat ADHD

Reading time: 7 minutes

Children with ADHD respond quicker when things are done at a leisurely pace

Josh, a slight, sweet-looking three-year-old, bounced into my office with his mum close behind him. He was jabbering non-stop, making a constant flow of sounds that mostly didn’t make any sense. Every once in a while in the torrential flow of vowels, consonants and syllables, there was a word that I recognized.

He ran towards one corner of the room where there was a box of toys, but then, without even pausing there or seeming to take any interest in the toys, he changed direction and ran to another part of the room. He kept bouncing off the walls in this way, jabbering away and frequently tripping and losing his balance.

Any parent with a child suffering from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or with a diagnosis in the autism spectrum or fragile X chromosome disorder, knows how debilitating it is when the child is always moving too fast. The world these children experience is chaotic, and because they can’t slow themselves down they have great difficulty learning.

Their attention bounces from one thing to another so quickly that their brain never has the opportunity to feel and notice enough to be able to make sense of themselves or the world around them in a meaningful way. When faced with new demands, such as learning the complex balance of riding a bike, developing the hand-eye coordination required to catch a ball, learning to read and write, and developing more precise and lucid language skills, their brain cannot differentiate sufficiently to organize and perform these complex actions.

What we tend to observe in such instances is an increase in hyperactive behaviour.

Less is more

Some might think these children need more stimulation to try to get through to them, such as having them repeat a desired action, devoting more hours to maths or reading tutoring, or stretching their legs repeatedly with the hope that it’ll help them pedal a bike better.

But it’s not stimulation that they lack. Every bit of sensory input stimulates them; the problem is that their brains can’t organize the stimulation in any meaningful, coherent way.

If anything, these children need less stimulation, a reduction in the speed and intensity of the input coming their way. Their brains need the opportunity to experience ‘Slow’, to feel and sense what is going on, to perceive differences so their brains have the chance to turn the stimulation from both inside and outside of themselves into information they can differentiate, organize and integrate.

Otherwise, any stimulation coming their way or coming from within them will agitate them and only speed them up more. Current brain science has confirmed this, demonstrating the critical importance of Slow and the idea that increased stimulation can be detrimental as it exaggerates the very symptoms such children need to change.

During that first session with Josh, I quietly observed him as he ran around the room. Then each time he ran in a certain direction, I calmly and without saying anything stepped in front of him to block his view. At first he seemed oblivious to my presence. But after about a half-dozen times of putting myself in his path, he stopped and looked up at me. It was as if he had noticed me for the first time and wondered what I was doing.

In that instant, his flow of sounds also stopped. He was what I call ‘attentioning’ for a few seconds. Then he dashed off again. Again I stepped in front of him and again he looked up. At that point I said to him slowly, “Hi Josh, I’m Anat. I’m going to pick you up and put you on my table.” I slowly proceeded to reach out to him, picked him up and placed him on my high table.

As I have discovered, once a child has experienced slowing down even for just a few seconds and so has had the opportunity to ‘attention’ more effectively, he will be able to slow down better and manage to Slow more readily on his own. Although we call the condition an ‘attention deficit’, I sometimes think it would be more helpful to think of it as a ‘slowing-down deficit’.

Once on the table, Josh began squirming. He lay down, sat up, then lay down again, moving his legs first in one direction, then another. I sat down, positioning myself very close to him with my arms on either side of his body and hovering close to him so that he wouldn’t fall off the table. I began moving him very slowly and gently, with only a tiny amount of change at a time. In the beginning, just as before, it was as if he hadn’t even noticed that I was moving him or that I was even there. The flood of sounds continued to pour out of his mouth.

I didn’t try to stop him from doing whatever he was doing; I just kept slowly and gently moving his legs, his hips and his chest. Each slow movement was ‘talking’ to his brain through the movement of his body, giving his brain an opportunity to feel the different parts of himself, to experience the movements and sensations slowly enough to begin noticing and making sense of them.

Throughout this session I served as a coherent Slow ‘container’ for the noise of his usually fast and disorganized actions and movements.

After a few minutes, Josh began slowing down on his own, lying still more and more. And then he became very quiet. The incoherent jabbering stopped. The squirming stopped. His brain was calming down. He was now free to attend and to learn. Josh had come home to himself in a way he had never done before. At the end of the session, his mother said to me, “I have never seen Josh this way.”

When Josh came in the next day, he was speaking sentences of two or more words. From time to time he reverted to his rapid flow of unstructured sounds and agitated movements, but then would go back to speaking in a well-organized and understandable way.

Josh improved in leaps and bounds not only with his speech, but also with his posture, strength, balance, eating, sleeping and thinking. This happens frequently with the children we work with. They improve not just in one area, but in many different areas and often in ways that no one had anticipated. Their improvements are generalized because the underlying brain processes have improved.

The 7 tools of Slow

As you apply the following tools for Slow, watch for the smallest of changes-they are so easy to overlook or dismiss. These tiny shifts and changes in the brain are the beginnings of all major transformations.

1. Be with your child

Find 10 minutes each day to just be with your child. Turn off your cell phone, computer or TV and don’t cook, clean up or even wash your child’s face. Spend time with him or her on the rug, bed or sofa, or outside in the yard or play area.

Don’t have an agenda-just let feelings of Slow pervade your and your child’s experience. Make sure your child is safe, then let her be the leader and follow her cues.

2. Observe without judgment

Notice things about her responses to you that you may have never noticed before. When you observe your child without comparing her to anyone else and without trying to change or control her, you’ll notice more details of her responses to the world around her.

3. Take the time to slow down

Anytime your child fails at anything, whether it’s a movement she has not yet mastered or an attempt to read or write, your first inclination may be to act quickly to try to force the failed action. But at such moments, slow down your own movements, the speed at which you talk to you
r child and the speed at which you move. Have her follow suit.

4. Play the Slow game

The basic rule of this game is that you and your child do whatever you are doing ASAP-that is, as slow as possible. Try this when fitting pieces into a puzzle. Say, “Let’s see if I can put this piece in really slowly,” then proceed to do it. Then say, “Let’s see how slowly you can do it.”

The Slow game is especially useful when your child is stuck or unable to perform. If she is too young to understand, make yourself slow down so she can mirror you. As your child slows down, look for tiny changes, an increase in alertness and interest, or actual improvement in coordination

or thinking.

5. Slow touching

Help your child’s brain evolve in remarkable ways through what I call ‘Slow touching’. When caressing your child’s hair, say, move your hand very slowly. Slow will amplify your child’s experience as well as your own, helping her brain notice what is going on and so become more engaged in it.

6. Slow listening

Many children with special needs have an especially difficult time making themselves and their experiences understood, particularly when they themselves are having a hard time making sense of their world. You can become an especially capable listener through ‘Slow listening’-not just to words, but also to any other communication through sound, movements, inflections, facial expressions, body language and other forms of expression.

But first slow yourself down internally, quieting any internal chatter that might be going on in your mind. Take a few slow deep breaths, then shift your attention to your child. Allow yourself to take a guess at what your child is trying to say through her words, body language or movements. Describe what you understand her communication to be, mimic her in a loving and playful way or simply ask if that is what she was trying to communicate.

When you are on target, she will immediately relax and become more responsive and communicative, maybe even playful. When you’re not on target, she will likely withdraw or maybe get upset or even angry. At such times, just continue doing Slow listening until you feel you and your child are connecting.

7. Become a master of kindness

Your child knows when she is failing, so be reassuring, authentic and kind with your child. But this doesn’t mean you should tell your child she is succeeding when she’s not. Help her do Slow by holding her close and gently guiding her with your own body to slow down. When you do this, you communicate to your child, “You are okay as you are. You are doing fine. You are safe.” When your child feels loved, accepted and safe, her brain will then have the opportunity to turn into a powerful learning machine.

To try two free short movement exercises and experience the power of slowing down to improve your child’s or your own brain functioning, sense of mental clarity, co-ordination and wellbeing, visit

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Article Topics: brain, Psychology, Slow Movement
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