How to Improve Cognitive Development in Children
So fundamentally inherent is the ability to think and understand that we usually take it for granted. But when it comes to intellectual development in children, guiding that ability is of paramount importance. That, in a nutshell, is what the study of cognitive development is all about. It focuses on the early childhood processes through which the brain develops into the thinking, understanding mind of an adult.
What is Cognitive Development in Children?
For years, scientists yearned to answer the fundamental question at the heart of childhood neuroscience: was cognitive development determined by nature or nurture? In other words, did a child’s environment play a greater role in their intellectual development, or was the majority of intelligence innate in one’s genes? This is an argument that remains relevant today, but not to the same degree. That’s because most in the scientific community agree that it’s a false choice. The vast weight of the evidence points to a simple truth at the heart of cognitive development: genes are susceptible to change depending on environmental stimulus. In other words, the brain is guided by activity.
This is promising news for parents of children with developmental issues. No longer do we view the course of cognitive development as a fixed path. The concept of neuroplasticity has opened the doors to exciting new forms of therapy that can alter the course of childhood cognitive development. Neuroplasticity is a complex subject, but it can be summarized as the brain’s ability to alter its neural pathways in response to outside stimuli. This concept replaces the old model of the brain as a static organ. The newest research shows that we can change the brain’s pathways even as adults, though the potential for life-altering changes are much greater in young children.
At its heart, the entire foundation of C8 Sciences and ACTIVATE™ is centered on the promises of neuroplasticity. The work of Dr. Bruce Wexler has both built upon the findings of earlier research and moved the study of the science forward. Starting with adults and schizophrenics, Dr. Wexler conclusively proved that behavioral therapy could address deficiencies and abnormalities in cognitive development. This laid the bedrock upon which ACTIVATE™ could be developed.
But let’s take a step back. If we understand that the brain is a living, changing organ, then we also know that cognitive disorders such as ADHD are no more written in stone than the ability to play the guitar. Some children may be more apt to become a virtuoso than others, but there is increasing evidence that practice does indeed make perfect. The same is true when it comes to executive function disorders. That doesn’t mean they are any less “real.” It simply means they aren’t as fixed as doctors once assumed.
What happens in a child’s brain when they have a neurodevelopmental disorder like ADHD? When you understand what’s at play in the brain in such conditions, it becomes easier to understand that ADHD is about more than hyperactivity and inattention. Rather, it’s about delayed cognitive development. The predominant theory is that a child suffering from ADHD is around three years behind his or her peers when it comes to peak cortical thickness in the brain. This lag contributes to a lack of executive functions, which makes it difficult for the child to direct their attention and ignore irrelevant stimuli.
What’s more insidious is that this initial developmental lag has a cumulative effect when left untreated. Early social and academic failures contribute to low self-esteem, deviant behavior, and a tendency to fall further and further behind. The scars left by these early difficulties can often follow a child into adolescence and adulthood. There’s a reason adults with ADHD have a much higher rate of drug use, criminal behavior, and unemployment. And it all hearkens back to cognitive development in early childhood.
The Mainstream Solution
The predominate method of treating ADHD remains stimulant medication. The clinical evidence for amphetamine and amphetamine-like therapy is substantial; Ritalin, Adderall, and their close medicinal cousins have provided many children with the help they need to succeed socially and academically. That said, there are drawbacks and limitations. Medication works best when accompanied by behavioral therapy, an aspect of treatment often overlooked. Second, the behavioral benefits of stimulant medication disappear once the medication leaves the system; if Ritalin and other drugs have a calming effect, they do not provide a cure. Finally, there are concerns about side effects, especially as they pertain to suppression of appetite and adverse effects on physiological growth.
That’s not to say medication should be demonized or eschewed. But it does make the argument for a different kind of intervention, whether in place of or in addition to a regimen of medicinal therapy. And that’s what ACTIVATE™ is all about. By aggressively targeting those regions of the brain left lagging by ADHD, ACTIVATE™ goes beyond superficial symptom-masking to get at the real issue. Best of all, the argument in favor of the program’s effectiveness is not a theoretical one. Case studies have shown how dramatically ACTIVATE™ can change the course of a child’s cognitive development.
Real-World Case Studies
Wherever ACTIVATE™ has been tested in real-world situations, it has proven to boost cognitive development in the kids who need help the most. One prominent example is that of Ralph Bunche Elementary School in Harlem, New York. With a high-poverty student body, the school’s academic numbers told a dismal tale. In 2011, only 26 percent of third grade students were proficient in Language Arts. Only 44 percent were proficient in math. The school as a whole was saddled with a D rating.
The school began implementing the computer portion of ACTIVATE™ (then known as C8Kids) in March 2012. Though time restrictions prevented the full implementation of the program, the results were immediately obvious. By the end of the year, the faculty had already decided to implement the program for the entirety of the 2012-2013 school year. What stood out to them? Kids who were unable to sit still for the NIH assessments at the beginning of the program were passing it with flying colors by the end. Children once restricted to special education classrooms were doing just as well as those in regular classes. And teachers were pleased with the flexibility of the program, allowing them to tailor the exercises to each child’s needs.
The story of Ralph Bunche Elementary is a common one. ACTIVATE™ has been developed to take advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity, proving that a label like “ADHD” or “special ed” does not always need to be a permanent one. Through a systematic combination of computer-based training and physical exercise, ACTIVATE™ stimulates changes in the brain just as a weight-lifting routine can stimulate muscular growth. For any parent or teacher wondering how to improve cognitive development in children, ACTIVATE™ provides the answer.