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What is ADHD/ADD?

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is really a group of symptoms that involve developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Many people have trouble paying attention at times or can be impulsive, and many people have high energy levels. That doesn’t mean they have ADD/ADHD. The symptoms become a disorder when they are extreme for the age of the individual (developmentally inappropriate), and when they interfere with an individual’s ability to function in school, work and life.

There is no cure for ADHD/ADD, but there are a variety of treatments, from medication to behavioral therapy that can help children and adults with ADHD/ADD to function more effectively. Recent research in the field suggests that training cognitive skills, including working memory and other attention-related skills, may also be beneficial in helping individuals with attention issues, whether or not they rise to the level of an ADHD/ADD diagnosis, to focus and attend.

ADHD/ADD and Learning

Many children and adults with ADHD/ADD struggle in school and other learning situations.  On the surface, the explanations are simple.  If a child can’t sustain their attention through a lesson, there will be gaps in their learning. If they can’t sit at a desk but are constantly jumping up or moving around, it is hard for them to complete their work and they are likely to be distracting to other students.  Reacting impulsively often results in behavior considered inappropriate in school (blurting things out, for example).  But surface explanations don’t explain how a child with ADHD actually learns. So it is vital to look below the surface.

An ADHD/ADD diagnosis, like other diagnoses (autism, dyslexia, etc.), is a prerequisite for medication and for accommodations in school (through and IEP or 504 plan).  These approaches seek to improve the symptoms, but may not fully address the child’s learning struggles.

Many children with ADHD/ADD have deficits in important cognitive skills, the skills our brains use to take in, understand, store, apply and retrieve information.  These deficits impede learning.

Attention skills are usually the first skills that come to mind when we hear the term ADHD/ADD, but it is important to understand that there are different types of attention.

Attention Skills

  1. Visual Sustained Attention. The ability to stay on task for a sustained period of time, dealing with visual information.
  2. Auditory Sustained Attention. The ability to stay on task for a sustained period of time, dealing with auditory information.
  3. Visual Selective Attention. The ability to attend to one input while not being distracted by other inputs, dealing with visual information.
  4. Auditory Selective Attention. The ability to attend to one input while not being distracted by other inputs, dealing with auditory information.
  5. Divided Attention. The ability to attend to two activities at the same time, such as taking notes while listening to the teacher.
  6. Flexible Attention. The ability to shift focus from one task to another quickly and efficiently, when necessary.

Individuals with ADHD/ADD also often have weaknesses in other executive functions, including working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility.

Executive Functions

  1. Working Memory. The ability to hold and manipulate information consciously in the mind.
  2. Inhibitory Control. The ability to suppress a thought or idea and to refrain from doing something one otherwise would do.
  3. Cognitive Flexibility.  The ability to change our mindset when the rules of the world around us change, to shift between mental processes.

Assessing/Diagnosing ADHD/ADD

ADHD/ADD is a medical diagnosis and is arrived at by a qualified professional, based on symptoms and assessment of information derived from various sources, including parents, teachers and others.

ADHD/ADD Symptoms include:

  • Having trouble staying focused
  • Being easily distracted
  • Avoiding tasks that require significant mental effort
  • Having difficulty remembering instructions and following through on the
  • Fidgeting or squirming
  • Running around or climbing in situations when it’s not appropriate
  • Blurting out answers

For a more extensive list of symptoms, the Mayo Clinic provides a helpful list.

Assessing Attention and Working Memory

An ADHD/ADD assessment or diagnosis is NOT necessary to determine the relative strength or weakness of an individual’s attention and working memory skills.  We use and offer the Mindprint Cognitive Assessment to assess attention (visual sustained attention) and working memory.  The assessment does not yield a diagnosis, but can be used by a professional as one of the inputs considered in arriving at a diagnosis.  Its primary purpose is to support the selection of strategies to support students with weaker attention and working memory skills, regardless of whether or not there is a specific diagnosis.

Cognitive Training for Attention and Working Memory

Like other cognitive processes, attention and working memory can be improved with the right kind of cognitive training. BrainWare SAFARI develops 43 cognitive skills in an intensive and integrated manner and has training with BrainWare SAFARI has resulted in significant improvement in attention and working memory both in individuals with an attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder diagnosis and without a diagnosis.  The cognitive gains from the training lead to improvements in academic performance (reading and math) and in every day activities, including many of the symptoms of ADHD/ADD listed above.

How BrainWare Cognitive Training Can Help Individuals with ADHD/ADD

While there has not yet been a large study the impact of cognitive training with BrainWare for individuals with ADHD specifically, most of the studies that have been completed in schools did not exclude students with ADHD. In studies of students working in a resource environment in various schools, attention skills were often a concern. In these types of studies, attention skills have improved across the board. Also, anecdotally, some parents of children with ADHD and clinicians and teachers working with such individuals have noted improvements in attention and focus following use of BrainWare SAFARI.

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