Developing inclusive exercise sessions to support children with ADHD in the context of their regular school physical education classes


Alyx Taylor | Dario Novo |David Foreman |

Moderate to high intensity exercise can improve cognitive function and behavior in children including those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, exercise with long periods of the same activity, or inactivity can fail to engage or maintain their attention. This study examined the effect of exercise sessions developed to engage children with ADHD. Twelve children (10–11 years), six with a diagnosis of ADHD and six with no diagnosis, undertook 40-minute sessions of short-duration, mixed activities bi-weekly for eleven weeks. ADHD symptoms and exercise enjoyment were recorded before six and eleven weeks of intervention. Teacher-reported data showed ADHD symptoms were significantly decreased in the children with ADHD, with a moderate to large effect size. There were no changes in the control group. All children indicated equal enjoyment of the exercise sessions. Specially designed exercise sessions stimulate and maintain engagement by children with ADHD and may reduce ADHD symptom levels in the school environment. The method that supports inclusive practice in physical education (PE) was successfully transferred to the study school and led by the usual class teacher. Children evaluated the exercises as acceptable and enjoyable for those with and without ADHD. This inclusive exercise method might help children manage ADHD symptoms.


There is evidence that physical exercise has positive effects on the mental health of children. For those diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) moderate to high intensity exercise has been associated with a reduction in symptoms. However, these children can have difficulty maintaining attention in physical education (PE) lessons. The aim of this preliminary study was to work with children with ADHD in developing exercise sessions of moderate to high intensity to fully engage them in PE lessons. The exercise sessions were developed through a prospective study involving a single cohort of children with ADHD in one primary school. The Borg rating of perceived exertion, the AD/HD Rating Scale-IV scores, and child-friendly hand signals were used to evaluate exercise intensity, symptom level, and the children’s enjoyment of the exercises respectively. The intervention was ten 40-minute sessions over five weeks. The results showed the children were fully engaged, working at moderate to high intensity in each session. There was a trend towards lower hyperactivity and inattentive symptom scores. In addition, teachers observed an increase in engagement in classroom lessons. In conclusion, key elements of the design are short periods of each activity and a variety of different exercises. Feedback from the children also indicated the importance to them of the ability to choose activities from an approved list and the opportunity to take turns leading part of the session.