Savvy Blog

From the March 2012 issue

For a parent whose child has been labeled “ADD” or
“ADHD,” it seems like there are few options other
than ignoring the symptoms or pumping him/her
full of Ritalin or other stimulant medications.
And while most parents’ biggest concern is the
possible side effects, perhaps an equally important
consideration should be that stimulant medications
only treat the symptoms – not the underlying
cause – of the problem. This means that, although
the child may be been easier to “handle” at school,
chances are that his/her grades are still sub-par.
So what’s a parent to do?

Understanding the weakest link: Attention

As with almost all learning struggles, the most
common root cause is one or more weak cognitive
skills – the fundamental tools of effective learning.
“Cognitive skills are the underlying tools that
enable us to successfully focus, think, prioritize,
plan, understand, visualize, remember and
create useful associations, and solve problems,”
explains Tanya Mitchell, co-author of “Unlock
the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain
Science to Wake Up the Smart in your Child.” “A
child’s cognitive skill set is made up of several
cognitive skills including auditory processing,
visual processing, short and long-term memory,
comprehension, logic and reasoning, and
attention skills. In children with ADD or ADHD,
the weakest cognitive skill is attention, although
other areas tend to suffer as well.”

The three types of attention

According to Mitchell, there are three types of
attention: sustained, selective and divided. In
general, they are described as:
• Sustained: Allows the child to stay on task for a
long period of time
• Selective: Prevents the child from t being
easily distracted
• Divided: Allows the child to do more than one
thing at a time

In those with ADD, the frontal cortex (surface) of
the brain has more difficulty using glucose and less
blood flow than in people without ADD. The frontal
cortex inhibits impulses, initiates behavior, and
controls working memory. When underactive, the
ability to screen out irrelevant stimuli is reduced,
and the individual pays attention to EVERYTHING.
This results in poor regulation of the motivation
system and makes staying on task difficult without
immediate rewards.

“Video games provide rapid, constant feedback and
stimulation and tend to be very engaging for people
with ADD,” explains Dr. Russell Griffiths, a Licensed
Educational Psychologist. “Neuroscience shows that
by targeting and stimulating the underactive region
of the brain responsible for the characteristics
of inattention, attention can be strengthened.
Therefore, the correct approach (to ADD/ADHD)
is the opposite of the usual accommodations used
(at schools) – like removing distractions, reducing
workload, or isolating students into quiet areas.”
Exercises to improve the three types of attention
Although Mitchell recommends a thorough,
intense program of cognitive skills training for
children who are on stimulant medications like
Ritalin, she does offer suggestions for exercises that
parents can do at home to improve the three types
of attention in their children. They include:

Sustained Attention

Parents use a stopwatch while their child does
a small task or homework assignment and take
notice when the student loses focus. If the child
starts playing or looking around at 1:30 minutes,
the parent stops the time. The child is then given
a goal to try and focus for a longer period of time,
e.g.1:45 minutes. The game should include prizes
or special privileges for the child to look forward
to upon making the goal. The parents continue
adding new time to the goals until the student can
repeatedly focus for 5 minutes at a time.

Selective Attention

Parents can do the same activity for sustained
attention but the parent now adds small
distractions and the child tries to stay on task.
As the child in able to handle small distractions,
the distractions should increase. Make sure
to do the task in a game-like setting and once
the child completes a goal, they receive a small
reward or privilege.

Divided attention

The most important attention skill. Parents can
purchase a game like Simon, Bop-it or Perfection
where the game has a timing and attention
component to it. The child starts the game and the
parent asks for other information while the child
is playing (e.g. the parent names an animal and the
child has to make the sound, the parent gives two
numbers and the child gives the sum, the parent
asks the child to describe their room). This may
seem overwhelming, but by setting small goals (e.g.
two correct answers), and then increasing the goal,
a child can strengthen there ability to multi-task.
Mitchell says parents should try to do these
activities three to four times a week.

“Again, I’d suggest that parents try these exercises
at home to complement a cognitive skills training
program,” says Mitchell. “After working with a
professional (brain trainer) in a one-one-one
setting, most children who have been labeled as
having ADHD, ADD or other learning disabilities
like dyslexia can improve from three to five grade
levels and about half the students will no longer
require medication.”

To learn more about this topic contact LearningRX,
501-223-9500; www.learningrx.com

Savvy Kids is a monthly family magazine reflecting the unique style, interests and needs of central Arkansas families. In each issue of Savvy Kids, we feature health topics, information for special needs families, and highlight local heroes, arts programs and community events.
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