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Research aims to help children with ADHD

A New Mexico State University professor has found a way to link the efficient use of both sides of the body, also known as cross-lateral integration, to possible improvements for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

New Mexico State University's Scott Pedersen demonstrates to one of his students how to use a machine he has developed to test reaction and movement times of children with ADHD. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

edersen, an assistant professor in NMSU's department of physical education, recreation and dance, began his research at his alma mater, Indiana University, and will perform a similar study in the Las Cruces area. His initial study was published in Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly in 2004.

Pedersen studied boys 11 to 13 years old; 16 had ADHD and 19 did not. Boys were chosen because ADHD is more prevalent in boys than girls. He used a lower extremity (legs and feet) reaction and movement time machine to measure cross-lateral integration, which is defined as using both sides of the body with equal efficiency.

Normal children usually develop this ability at 8 or 9 years old, which is considered a developmental milestone similar to holding the head up at three months or walking at a year old. Pedersen found that children who were considered normal had no problem with cross-lateral movement - they were able to react equally using both feet. However, children with ADHD had slower reaction and movement times when crossing the midline of the body.

Pedersen said he became interested in this area of research after working with children with disabilities in a physical education environment. He noticed children with disabilities were very "one-sided" with their movements.

"I always wanted to understand how I could help teach these children to be more apt to play with children without disabilities," Pedersen said.

ADHD affects 2 to 14 percent of school age children in the United States. Its warning signs include failure to listen to instructions, fidgeting with hands and feet, inability to organize, leaving homework or chores unfinished, talking too much and having trouble paying attention.

Pedersen plans to develop a program designed to help children with ADHD become more efficient in the areas of reaction and movement time. He said he wants to create an after-school program for children with ADHD based on a concept developed by scientist Paul Dennison known as "Brain Gym." Children would be able to participate in exercises aimed at improving cross-lateral integration.

Pedersen said a lot of parents think the key to controlling ADHD is medication. He said cross-lateral integration exercises can improve a child's attention span, keep the child on task longer and improve reading ability. The focus of the after-school program would be to give parents and children the opportunity to learn exercises they could perform together.

"Ritalin and other stimulant medications are not the only option for these kids," Pedersen said. "Stimulant medication does not cure the symptoms of ADHD; it only masks them."

Pedersen said he wants to attract NMSU students to assist with this research in the fall. Those interested in this area of adapted physical education will have the opportunity to participate in a new master's program in special education with a specialization in adapted physical education, to be offered next fall.

"I really think this program will open new doors for students interested in teaching physical activity to students with disabilities," Pedersen said. After this program, students will be prepared to take a national certification examination in adapted physical education.

Pedersen is moving forward with data collection for his next research project, which will be testing reaction and movement time on both lower and upper extremities of children with and without ADHD. He said Las Cruces has approximately 650 children who are affected by ADHD and he would like to meet with those interested in participating in the study.

Families with sons affected by ADHD, ages 6 to 16, who are interested in the study can contact Pedersen at (505) 646-2071 or pedersen@nmsu.edu. Information about the NMSU Adapted Physical Education Program and local activities for people with disabilities can be found at http://education.nmsu.edu/nmsuape.