How Brain Training Games can Help ADHD in Children
Today’s children are growing up in a world that places increasing demands on their limited attention spans while simultaneously flooding them with technology that deteriorates their ability to pay attention. Video games, Internet, and mobile devices have changed our society in a number of positive ways, but they can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to children with ADHD. Instead of building up their ability to harness control over their executive function, research suggests this technological playground does quite the opposite.
This comes as a surprise to some parents. They see their children focusing for hours on the latest Xbox game, and it sends them a message they don’t know quite how to interpret. How can a child have ADHD if he is able to spend so much time focused on one activity? Kids and adults with ADHD often display what’s known as “hyperfocus,” which can be described as a kind of tunnel-vision experience where the rest of the world falls away. Video games are a reliable hyperfocus trigger, researchers believe, because constant feedback provides a steady stream of dopamine. Unfortunately, this subconsciously teaches children with ADHD that activities without that instant-reward feedback aren’t worth pursuing.
That said, specialized video games can also be an exceptional tool when it comes to helping students with ADHD. Programs like ACTIVATE™ make liberal use of brain training games, but the benefits of these games go beyond their initial attraction. Instead of launching an attack on a child’s ability to resist distraction, these games aim to improve the brain’s cognitive capacities. The program uses dynamic, short games that provide students with auditory and visual feedback. This is the hook. But while traditional video games provide an escalating stream of that attention-weakening feedback, ACTIVATE™’s unique system actually reduces these elements as the student progresses. This strengthens his ability to sit and focus on a session of work without the extra stimulation ADHD students often require to keep them invested.
The Case of Christa McAuliffe Middle School
The evidence that brain training games like those found in ACTIVATE™ can help children with ADHD is growing. The program itself has been tested in both rigorous scientific studies and in real-world scenarios. Consider what happened when children at a school in Florida gave ACTIVATE™ a spin.
ADHD students at Christa McAuliffe Middle School in Palm Beach County used brain training games to enhance the executive function skills that are so critical to improving classroom performance. With a strict budget, educators at the school needed ways to improve many of the skills at the center of ACTIVATE™’s brain training games for kids, including working memory, cognitive flexibility, and sustained attention. Even with significant time restraints, students were able to make tremendous progress, providing real-time data to teachers on their advancements in a number of key areas. Perhaps the biggest indication of success came when students began taking their brain training exercises home for further practice.
The Brain as a Muscle
What scientists have learned is that neuroplasticity lies at the heart of a non-medicinal approach to ADHD brain training. The right kind of training can actually open up new neural pathways in the brain. In this way, the brain is much like any other muscle in the body. If you want bigger biceps, you might perform curls with progressively heavier weights each day. If you want to strengthen cognitive capacity, brain training software can act as a weight bench for your mind.
This isn’t just theoretical. An independent, peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education looked at brain games as an alternative to pharmaceutical ADHD therapy. Over a period of five weeks, adolescent participants were given brain games to play each morning for at least 20 minutes before school. Using electroencephalogram measurements, feedback from teachers and parents, and self-reporting from the students, the study concluded that the brain training exercises improved focus and executive function in teenagers with ADHD.
This jibes with findings from C8 Sciences that brain training games – especially when combined with a physical exercise program – can increase executive function, improve the brain’s core cognitive capacities, and help students with ADHD stay focused.
What Sets ACTIVATE Apart
The rate of ADHD diagnosis has created a cottage industry around non-pharmaceutical therapies. Some of these brain training programs are little more than snake oil while others have been shown to provide great benefit to students struggling with ADHD. ACTIVATE™ provides a unique combination of computer-based training and physical exercise that can’t be found in other products. So impressed was the National Institutes of Health that it awarded a $3 million Director’s Office grant to Yale and Dr. Bruce Wexler, whose research on neuroplasticity provides the foundation for the system. These grants are awarded only to those research initiatives that have paradigm-changing potential for U.S. healthcare. ACTIVATE™ provides hope to parents and teachers who want to see their children succeed in a world where the ability to focus is paramount. The science behind brain training for ADHD is still in its infancy, which is why we’re so excited to see where the limits lie.