It was once thought that it was impossible for new brain cells to either grow or strengthen. Thanks to modern technology such as MRI and fMRI, neurologists and brain experts have are able to directly observe the functioning of the living brain. As a result, it is now known that new brain cells do grow and that existing brain cells can be strengthened. This gives new hope to children and adults afflicted with ADHD.
Robert Myers, PhD, is a Child Psychologist who happens to have a son with ADHD. Dr Myers is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at UC Irvine School of Medicine. He recently wrote a very helpful article entitled "ADHD, Empowering Parents." I want to suggest that the article can be helpful to adults with ADHD. More can be learned about this at:
First, he likens the experience of the ADHD child, to living in a video game with sounds, blinking lights and sensations coming at you all at once. The confusion created by all this over stimulation makes it impossible to concentrate. Unable to concentrate, memory, following directions and completing tasks, whether at home or in school, are unachievable.
Dr. Myers asserts that cognitive exercises along with behavioral and skills training can help the ADHD child develop and strengthen the parts of the brain implicated in ADHD and enable the child to improve memory, concentration and impulse control. Here are a few examples of cognitive exercises that everyone can use.
Cautionary note: None of these suggestions are a substitute for having an evaluation done on any child or adult suspected of suffering from ADHD. Nor are these a substitute for the correct types of medical treatment that might be deemed necessary. Here are a few of his suggested exercises:
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These suggestions are taken from the article about Dr. Myers and the full article can be found at:
1. The Coin Game: This is one of the games that we use in the Total Focus Program. Parents like it because it improves memory and sequencing as well as attention and concentration, and kids enjoy it because it's fast-paced and fun. First, you will need a small pile of assorted coins, a cardboard sheet to cover them, and a stopwatch (or a regular watch with a second hand.) Choose five of the coins from the pile (for this example, we'we will say three pennies and two nickels) and put them into a sequence. Now, tell your child to “Look carefully at the coins arranged on the table.” Then, cover the coins with the cardboard. Start the stopwatch, and then ask them to make the same pattern using the coins from the pile. When they are finished, mark the time with the stopwatch and remove the cardboard cover. Write down the time it took them to complete the pattern and whether or not they were correct. If they did not complete it correctly, have them keep trying until they can do it. You can increase the difficulty of the patterns as you go, and include pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars. You will see your child's concentration and sequencing improve the more they play, which is a great reward for both of you.
2. Relaxation and Positive Imagery: Combining simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing with positive visual imagery helps the brain to improve or learn new skills. For instance, research shows that if a person mentally practices their golf swing, the brain actually records the imaginary trials the same as if they were real trials which leads to improvement on the golf course. So ADHD kids can “imagine” that they're paying attention in class or able to handle teasing, and this can in turn change their behavior at school. You and your child can use your own creativity and give this a try.
3. Mind - Body Integration: An example of this technique would be to have your child attempt to sit in a chair without moving. The parent times how long the child is able to accomplish this. Repeated practice over several weeks will show improvement. Through this activity, the neural connections between the brain and body are strengthened, providing improved self-control.
4. Crossword Puzzles and Picture Puzzles: It sounds simple, but these are great tools for kids with ADHD. Crossword puzzles actually improve attention for words and sequencing ability, while picture puzzles—in which your younger child has to look for things that are “wrong” in the picture or look for hard-to-find objects—also improve attention and concentration.
5. Memory and Concentration Games: Children's games such as Memory or Simon are great ideas for improving memory and concentration. They are quick and fun. Memory motivates the child to remember the location of picture squares and Simon helps them memorize sequences of visual and auditory stimuli. Through repeated playing, brain circuits are “exercised” and challenged, which strengthens connections and thus improves function. Also, there are some free computer games on the internet that also improve concentration or memory such as Memory and Mosquito Killer. There are exercises for older children and adolescents. It is suggested that you do an Internet search to find these. Some may be available only by making a purchase.
As these “brain exercises” are done parents can work together with their child, serving as coach and guide by provide the child with encouragement while tracking their progress as they improve.
I want to add that these exercises and others can be helpful to adults who are struggling with ADHD or who want to improve memory and give their brain some stimulation. For myself, crossword puzzles are lots of fun.
Your comments and questions are welcome and encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD