Kinesthetic learners are often misdiagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The three main learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Visual learners take in information through their sight, auditory learners through their ears, and kinesthetic learners through their body (hands on and tactile).
The average classroom is not set up for kinesthetic learners; visual learners who respond well to colorful pictures, illustrations of learning materials, and notes on the blackboard do well in public school. Children who want to move around, actively explore, or become bored and distracted when they don’t are often mislabeled as ADHD.
Your child may not have ADHD but may be a kinesthetic learner. Teachers want children to seat nicely in their seats, pay attention to what’s said (no matter how it’s being presented), and be engaged and interested (or at least appear to be). Noises and “unnecessary” movements are distracting in the classroom. If your child has ADHD, she may or may not be a kinesthetic learner; some children with ADHD have other learning styles.
A teacher may have told you that “Johnny” has ADHD, but his teacher is not qualified to make a diagnosis. Johnny may need to run in PE or at recess to burn off energy; many schools have eliminated recess and only offer PE once a week. Educators are preparing for assessment tests and are leaving no child behind. Unfortunately, Johnny is having a difficult time, because he’s expected to sit still, and as much as he tries, he cannot. It could be that Johnny needs a Koosh ball, putty, or a coin to roll between his fingers, as he tries to absorb visual information. This may be enough movement to keep him in his seat, while he makes subtle movements. It may not, however, be enough to keep him excited about learning.
Because of an informal diagnosis by a lay person (Johnny’s teacher), a seed may be planted in your mind that Johnny has ADHD. Well, what if he does? Then again, what if he doesn’t? Before you go to the pediatrician or get a referral to a psychiatrist or pediatric neurologist, think about whether your child displays ADHD-type symptoms at home, and if so under what circumstances. Check out one of the many learning style assessments on the internet and administer it to your child or have him answer the questions if he’s old enough. You may discover he’s a kinesthetic learner who needs more hands-on activities and doesn’t have ADHD. Perhaps his needs can’t be met at his school.
Alternatives to public school are a Montessori school or a private school with experiential learning. Other possibilities are homeschooling and unschooling.
Helping Kinesthetic Learners Succeed
Is it ADHD: The Teacher and Doctor Disagree
NINDS: ADHD Disorder Information Page