Training the ADHD Brain

For years, we at Play Attention, have trained thousands and thousands of people to better pay attention, learn the cognitive skills they need to succeed, and change their behavior. Our results have spoken clearly for us since 1994. Now science is catching up.

Two recent distinct studies validate the brain’s ability to change. While a vast plethora of research confirms these studies’ findings, they are noteworthy. The first study demonstrates the efficacy of skill training, and the second demonstrates how teaching skills rewires the living brain.

The first study, published in the August 25 Journal of the American Medical Association, was performed by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). They utilized cognitive behavioral therapy as a direct intervention for ADHD adults. Cognitive therapy teaches skills for managing life challenges.

The researchers at  MGH found that while medications were the first line of treatment, many patients still persist with underlying symptoms.  While previous studies on cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD were small and short term, the researchers at MGH claim their study to be the first to conduct full-scale randomized, controlled trial of the efficiency of an individually-delivered, non-medication treatment of ADHD among adults.

“Medications are very effective in ‘turning down the volume’ on ADHD symptoms, but they do not teach people skills,” commented Steven Safren, PhD, ABPP, director of Behavioral Medicine in the MGH Department of Psychiatry, who led the study. “This study shows that a skills-based approach can help patients learn how to cope with their attention problems and better manage this significant and impairing disorder.”

“Sessions were designed specifically to meet the needs of ADHD patients and included things like starting and maintaining calendar and task list systems, breaking large tasks into manageable steps, and shaping tasks to be as long as your attention span will permit,” commented Safren, an associate professor of Psychology in the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry. “The treatment is half like taking a course and half like being in traditional psychotherapy.”

Like Play Attention has been doing since 1994, the researchers provided training sessions mainly that included skills training in filtering of distractions, organization, problem solving, and planning.

Safren’s group receiving cognitive and behavioral training demonstrated advanced control of their symptoms over their control group.  This benefit had persisted when measured three and nine months after the training.

The second study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience (August 25, 2010, 30 34 11493-11500 doi 10.1523 JNEUROSCI.1550-10.2010), examined the brains of rats when they learned to control their impulses.  The researchers documented synaptic changes in the medial prefrontal cortex. They concluded that the rat’s brains rewired themselves to produce the impulse controls necessary to be successful in the tasks the scientists had established for them.

Other past studies have confirmed that the brain will rewire to make changes for skills, impulse control, organization, etc. We’re glad that science is catching up to an learning process that we’ve done at Play Attention for sixteen years now.  That’s beyond cutting edge; it’s leading the way for others.