Scientifically speaking, treatment options for students with attention deficits have long been limited. Outside of stimulant medication, and some behavior-modification strategies, few interventions have much of a research base to show that they can help.
That situation could change, though. Recent studies have shown that a computer-based training program developed in Sweden helps sharpen the “working memory” skills of children and teenagers with some form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And, in the process, the studies show, the program can alleviate some of the problems they have with paying attention, controlling their impulses, and solving problems.
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Working memory is the ability to keep information in mind and work with it at the same time. The brain calls on working memory, for example, when people solve mathematical problems or try to follow through on plans they’ve made. Experts believe that working memory can be particularly difficult for many people with ADHD, a condition that afflicts an estimated 3 percent to 5 percent of school-age children, as well as for people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries or strokes.
In a study published in 2004 in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Neuroscience, Dr. Torkel F. Klingberg and his colleagues at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute gave the program to a group of attention-challenged Swedish adults, who used it for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for five weeks. Brain scans taken before and after the training showed activity in the regions that control working memory had increased after the training period, suggesting that the training might have produced physical changes in the brains of those subjects.
Studies Under Way in U.S.
A second report, published a year later in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, which is also peer-reviewed, further bolstered the Swedish researchers’ case. That study, a randomized experiment involving 53 Swedish students with the disorder from age 7 to age 12, showed that pupils who underwent the same five-week training outperformed their control-group peers on a variety of tasks meant to measure working memory, self-control, attention, and problem-solving. Such randomized experiments are often referred to as the “gold standard” for research evaluations of educational interventions.
Results reported in March from the first U.S. study of the program, a small-scale trial involving 12 adolescent students, suggest the same improvement pattern. More studies are under way in this country at Harvard University, the University of Notre Dame, and New York University. continue reading