Evaluation of a pilot physical activity intervention for children with ADHD symptoms and reading difficulties

Josephine N. Booth, Ian A. Mitchell, Philip D. Tomporowski, Bryan A. McCullick, James M. E. Boyle, John J. Reilly

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Physical activity (PA) benefits children’s cognition, in particular executive functions (EF). Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Reading Difficulties (RD), and co-occurring ADHD/RD have low levels of PA and difficulties with EF. This study evaluated a PA programme to determine recruitment, attrition, feasibility (e.g. in-school or after-school hours), intensity of PA during the programme, and effect sizes. Outcomes evaluated were EF, academic attainment, and social and emotional behaviour.
Sixty-nine children (35 males) aged 7-13 years participated in a delayed control design. The sample comprised 15 children with RD, 15 with high levels of ADHD symptoms, 15 with co-occurring RD and ADHD symptoms, and 24 typically developing children. 31 of the participants took part in a 12 week PA intervention designed to enhance cognition and 38 acted as a control group. The control group subsequently received the intervention and data was combined for analysis.
The study was successful in recruiting participants for the intervention; more success was observed for in-school than after-school hours. Participants spent 46% (SD=14) of the intervention in Moderate-to-Vigorous intensity PA (MVPA). A significant effect of time-point (pre- vs. post-intervention) was found for inhibition and visuo-spatial working memory (η2= 0.11 and 0.18 respectively). There was no interaction with symptomatology though; all groups had higher scores on EF tasks after the intervention.
It is possible to recruit and retain participants with ADHD symptoms and reading difficulties to a school-based PA programme and adherence to measurements was good. Taking part in the programme may improve inhibition and visuo-spatial working memory and reduce symptomatology suggesting this is a potential source of remediation which should be explored.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Research in Special Educational Needs
Early online date13 Oct 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Oct 2023


  • physical activity intervention
  • executive function
  • ADHD
  • reading difficulties
  • children


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