Training your child’s memory to improve attention problems

Publication: WSBT South Bend
Published:February 18th, 2009
By: Debra Daniel

SOUTH BEND — Have you ever told your child to do several things — like go upstairs, clean their room and take out the garbage — then they do one thing, or maybe nothing at all?

You may think it’s a behavior problem; but experts say it could be their memory. So how can you find that out, and what can you do about it?

Some parents are turning to a place in South Bend for help.

Karen Treadway started crying when we interviewed her son, because he answered our questions so eloquently. “He couldn’t have done that a year ago, 2 years ago,” she said. And she credits computer games for his improvement. Her son Jackson is a fourth-grader at Walt Disney in Mishawaka. And his mom says he’s proof the computer games work.“We help every single child reach their potential,” said Dr. Donna Turner Campbell.

Dr. Campbell is a neuropsychologist and executive director of Stepwise, a place in South Bend that helps children with everything from dyslexia to autism. “I would say most of our children don’t have disabilities that come here; they’re gray-area kids,” Campbell said.

Stepwise uses a program called Cogmed to help 3- to 18-year-olds with attention problems. It’s designed to train and increase their working memory. Experts say most people with attention problems also have a memory problem. That means they don’t have the same memory as their peers. And Dr. Campbell says parents should know there are a variety of signs.

That starts in second grade, and the teachers are talking fast and they’re asking that brain to multi-task. The executive functioning system is saying, ‘OK, I’m supposed to be, what now, OK, on page 43,’ and the teacher’s already explaining math problem number 2. If that’s your child and they’re feeling frustrated, or if they come home from school extremely exhausted, that’s a working memory, alternating attention problem,” Campbell explained.

Jackson has visited Stepwise twice a week for the last 2 years, playing games that are fun and improving his skills. “We started with that working memory, alternative attention component, we did some sensory work with him, we did some visual work with him and along the way we did that reading part with him, really linguistics, working on that now,” Campbell said.

Jackson’s mom credits Cogmed for his dramatic improvement and increased confidence. “Schoolwork is phenomenal,” Treadway said. “He’s got a ways to go, but his self-esteem has flourished, I think you saw that. Most important it is not how you do it, you just have to try your best; keep on doing it until you get it right,” Jackson said.

Schools also offer interventions. Stepwise is an alternative, and the director says it’s the only place that offers Cogmed in Indiana. For more information click the link in the Related Content box. Right now researchers at Notre Dame are doing something similar with middle school students in the Penn District with ADHD. They’re using computer games to assess and improve their working memory.