If you’ve ever seen a child struggle to sit still, pay attention (or get attention!), you’ve got a general idea of how the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) manifest. But beyond the squirminess and lack of focus is a deeper issue: weak learning skills.
While weak learning skills may not seem like a big deal in second grade, it’s important to understand that attention deficits don’t generally fix themselves. And because tutoring is about instruction in a particular subject (such as history or science), not strengthening weak brain skills, extra study help won’t make a difference. Sure, there’s stimulant medication, but all medications run the risk of side effects and studies show that ADHD medications only work in about 70 to 80 percent of people. Besides, do you really want to medicate your kid until they graduate from college? After all, medication doesn’t do anything at all to actually eliminate attention struggles; it simply masks the symptoms with a short-term fix.
Understanding what’s behind ADHD
So what is the solution? To answer that you first need to understand what ADHD is.
ADHD is now the generally accepted umbrella term for the three types of ADHD, including what used to be generally referred to as ADD. The three forms of ADHD are:
- Inattentive Type –people with this disorder have trouble focusing, but they are not overly active and usually don’t display disruptive behavior (formerly call ADD)
- Hyperactive/Impulsive Type – people are fidgety and can’t control their impulses, but they are better able to pay attention
- Combined Type – applies to people with poor attention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity.
An attention deficit could mean one, two or all three types of attention: sustained, selective and divided.
Sustained attention is the cognitive skill that allows your child to stay on task for a long period of time. Selective attention is the cognitive skill that prevents the child from being easily distracted. Divided attention allows them to do more than one task at a time.
In children with ADD and ADHD, it’s not always just attention that’s affected. Other brain skills often suffer as well. Because the frontal cortex of the brain in someone with ADHD has less blood flow and more difficulty using glucose, it doesn’t function as well as it should. This is bad news, especially considering that the frontal cortex inhibits impulses, initiates behavior and controls working memory. “When the frontal cortex is underactive, the brain’s ability to screen out irrelevant stimuli is decreased,” says Tanya Mitchell, co-author of “Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child.” “This causes the child to pay attention to everything, which obviously makes staying on task very difficult. For children with ADHD, immediate reward is often the only way they can stay on task. The constant stimulation provided by video games, for example, can keep kids with ADHD engaged for hours.”
The high cost of not treating ADHD
Getting in trouble for yelling in the library or not turning in math homework will seem like small change once you consider the long-term risks of not treating the root cause of ADHD. Here are just a few symptoms you could see throughout school, college and even into adulthood:
• Low self-esteem
• Poor grades
• Difficulty getting into college
• Anxiety and/or depression
• Significant time-management challenges
• Difficulty managing money
• Chronic disorganization
As you can see, these patterns can have a significant impact on one’s entire life. And untreated ADHD can lead to major crises, including unemployment, divorce, bankruptcy, substance abuse and chronic health problems.
And here’s another interesting fact: Contrary to what many believe, production of dopamine, which regulates things like movement and balance, is actually decreased in children with ADHD. This is explains why stimulants (like Ritalin and caffeine) work well for many children with the disorder, as they increase the production of dopamine. It may also explain why adults with ADHD have a much greater risk of abusing stimulant substances like cocaine, nicotine and methamphetamine, all of which improve dopamine function, making the user “feel better.”
“We’re not talking about little nuisances,” says Mitchell. “The long-term consequences of attention problems can’t be shrugged off and ignored. By strengthening attention and other cognitive skills with brain training at an early age, most children would never need stimulant medication.”
Treating the root cause – not the symptoms
So where does that leave the child with attention problems who is destined to struggle to learn throughout school and beyond? The answer is not accommodation, as many well-meaning school administrations have done in attempts to reduce workloads and remove distractions. The only proven, scientific solution is treating the root cause of weak attention skills: with cognitive skills training.
Unlike digital brain training games, intensive, one-on-one brain training uses the brain’s plasticity to rebuild neural connections, find faster routes to process information and increase the processing speed of existing neural connections. And because IQ is simply a measurement of cognitive skills, strengthening weak brain skills can raise IQ by as much as 12 points!
The cause of ADHD is still up for debate. There is no one known cause of ADHD. There is a genetic factor – it tends to run in families and children with ADHD usually have at least one close relative who also has it. An “ADHD gene” has also been identified that brings a greatly increased risk of having ADHD. But there are other factors – symptoms have been linked to environmental issues like food dyes and toxins, and children whose mothers smoked while pregnant with them are twice as likely to develop ADHD.
Even without a definitive cause, brain training can treat the weak attention skills of ADHD that threaten to diminish a child’s potential to learn and thrive. Why risk your child’s future when there’s a scientifically proven method to make him a stronger, faster, more confident learner? The cost is too high. But treating the root cause of attention struggles will ALWAYS pay off.