It was the prolific sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov who once lamented that society’s wisdom could not keep up with scientific breakthroughs. If that was true in Asimov’s day, it is ever more true today. We have noticed it especially in the areas of research we happen to specialize in: neuroplasticity and ADHD. That’s why we’re always so grateful to see the work of C8 Sciences and Dr. Bruce Wexler get the attention it deserves.
In their Wow! newsletter, the Center for Educational Improvement delved into the science of working memory, a subject we’re all familiar with here at C8 Sciences. In the context of the subject, the newsletter ran a terrific story entitled: “Working Memory, ADHD and a Non-Invasive Cost-Effective Intervention for Schools: Yale’s C8 Science ‘ACTIVATE™’.” In case you’re not a newsletter subscriber yourself, we wanted to take a moment and hit the highlights of the article, because the authors did a wonderful job explaining ACTIVATE™ to a whole new audience.
Training the Brain Like a Muscle
The article begins with one of our favorite comparisons: “Could it be that practice builds brain capacity just like weight building builds strength?” This is a great way to introduce the subject of neuroplasticity because it sheds the medical lingo. You want to introduce a foreign concept to someone? Liken it to something they already know. Everyone knows you can increase strength by pumping iron, so the idea that you can do something very similar with the brain is at once novel and instantly familiar. The exciting part, of course, is that it’s completely true.
The authors note a couple of pertinent examples. London cab drivers, carrying with them an almost unbelievable mental map of the city, actually have larger anterior hippocampi than the average human being. Not because they were born special, but because they were able to increase the size of their spatial information stores with training. Then there are professional violinists, whose brains undergo similar physical changes as evidenced by studies that have compared them to non-players. The authors ask the obvious follow-up: “Could this be an emerging priority for school curricula and instruction?”
You’d better believe it.
Working Memory: The Basis for Academic Success
As they go on to explain, neuron growth responds to specific types of training just as biceps can be inspired to grow through dumbbell curls. This growth, which forms the basis for Dr. Bruce Wexler’s work and the ACTIVATE™ system itself, is particularly noticeable in the area of working memory. As the article mentions, “a strong working memory is the number one indicator of school success.”
Not IQ. Not income. Not skin color. Working memory. Now, why is it that so little attention has been given to this indispensable aspect of childhood development? The answer to that lies in the observation Asimov made so many years ago. Put simply, it takes a while for society’s wisdom to catch up to scientific knowledge.
Adding credence to these theories, the authors point out the findings of psychiatrist Rosemary Tannock, whose work was cited by the American Psychological Association:
“It could be that working-memory problems give rise to observable behavioral symptoms of ADHD: distractibility and also poor academic achievement.”
In other words, the working memory problems we’re talking about are at the root of a disorder currently being treated almost solely by stimulant medication. And while that medication has proven to help, we are vastly behind the times when it comes to supplementing medicinal therapy with the kind of brain-training that can expand the prefrontal cortex. And that is where ACTIVATE™ comes in.
A New Way to Treat ADHD
CEI does a great job enumerating the many ways ACTIVATE™ is entirely different from other cognitive training programs. They cite Dr. Wexler’s design algorithms, the logic base upon which the program was developed, and the inclusion of a physical activity program as its strongest points. Taking it from theory to application, the authors point out:
A Recent NIH study that conclusively demonstrated a correlation between ACTIVATE™ and an increase in working memory.
The Michigan State University study that points to an irrefutable link between physical exercise and improvements in attention, mood, and social skills among elementary school students.
A Bristol, Connecticut study that showed students from kindergarten through the 3rd grade experience dramatic working memory improvements after using an earlier version of ACTIVATE™.
“Consider the possibilities,” write the CEI authors. They encourage schools to think about how ACTIVATE™ can “lead to healing in ways we are only beginning to realize.” With proven results in so many of the areas where children with ADHD struggle, ACTIVATE™ provides new hope for educators and parents alike.
A Final, Important Question
In an article filled with poignant, thought-provoking questions, the CEI authors finish off their profile with one that bears repeating here. It goes out to parents, teachers, school boards, and even adults struggling with their own ADHD. It is one that we humbly suggest deserves strong consideration. It is this:
“What are the ramifications of waiting one more year?”
Sure, there are budgets to consider. But let’s not lose sight of what’s at stake. To the child struggling to catch up to his or her classmates, one more year without help could destroy their chances of success. To the school frantic to raise test scores, one more year could see frustrated students fail miserably when they didn’t have to. To the parent of a desperate child, one more year could be one year too many.
We believe the science is clear. Our good friends at the Center for Educational Improvement feel the same way. ACTIVATE™ has proven to be a lifesaver for so many children that our heart breaks for the millions who may never get the chance to see their fortunes turn around. See, for Dr. Wexler and all of us at C8 Sciences, this is about more than pushing the boundaries of research. This is personal. ADHD has a tangible, human cost that we’ve seen all too clearly. America’s children deserve a chance to thrive.
One last big thank you to CEI, and a special thanks to you, the reader. If you know someone who can benefit from ACTIVATE™, do them the favor of a lifetime and spread the word. Together, we can bring society’s wisdom a little further along.