Training the Brain: Cognitive Therapy As An Alternative To ADHD Drugs

I have written for years that only by redefining ADHD can we address the problem through education and training. Finally, the movement is approaching mainstream as indicated in the article from Scientific American entitled, Training the Brain, Cognitive Therapy As An Alternative To ADHD Drugs.

It is interesting to note that the techniques mentioned in the article have been incorporated in the Play Attention cognitive tools for about ten years.

“Recent studies support the notion that many children with ADHD have cognitive deficits, specifically in working memory–the ability to hold in mind information that guides behavior. The cognitive problem manifests behaviorally as inattention and contributes to poor academic performance. Such research not only questions the value of medicating ADHD children, it also is redefining the disorder and leading to more meaningful treatment that includes cognitive training.”

Salient issues raised by the author include:

1. The difficult decision by parents “To medicate or not? Millions of parents must decide when their child is diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)–a decision made tougher by controversy.”
2. While medication may calm a student’s outward behavior, research shows that it does not increase cognitive ability manifesting in improved academic performance, social relationships, or defiant behavior over the long-term.
3. This has led scientists to research effective means of cognitive training as a substitute.

This is really a shift in our understanding of this disorder from behavioral to biological,” states Rosemary Tannock, professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Tannock has shown that although stimulant medication improves working memory, the effect is small, she says, “suggesting that medication isn’t going to be sufficient.” So she and others, such as Susan Gathercole of the University of Durham in England, now work with schools to introduce teaching methods that train working memory. In fact, working-memory deficits may underlie several disabilities, not just ADHD, highlighting the heterogeneity of the disorder.”

The article focuses on Dr. Torkel Klingberg of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden who trained around 40 kids with ADHD with a software program that addressed “working memory.” After more than 20 days of training parents reported that their children had greatly improved attention and lessened hyperactivity.

Klingberg essentially proved that cognitive retraining improved neurobiological function. This work has been underway with Play Attention since 1994. It’s good to see the paradigm shift beginning to happen.

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