What is Attention Training
The attention system is very non-specific and it extends throughout most cognitive and achievement based processes. Deficits or challenges in the attention system can be either a primary problem or a secondary problem. As a primary problem, the attention system itself is not functioning appropritately either cortically or subcortically. As a secondary problem, attention deficits are a symptom or bi-product of other cognitive deficits such as memory deficits, poor executive functioning, or emotional struggeles.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that has a variety of symptoms ranging from inattention and impulsivity, to hyperactivity and deficits in executive function. The attention system includes both attention and arousal. Attention is a cognitive process whereas arousal is not. Arousal is a contributing factor which controls attention. There are three different types of attention disorders which can affect both children and adults of all ages and present in varying degrees of severity.
The 3 main classifications of attention deficit disorders are:
- ADHD, Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive Type
- ADHD Primarily Inattentive Type
- ADHD Combined Type
Attention training is cognitive training that addresses the most common symptoms associated with the different types of ADHD. Many cognitive deficits in learning, executive functioning and memory are the result of impaired attentional processing. Attention training programs primarily address the four basic components of attention. These components are:
- 1. Sustained Attention – This is the ability to maintain a consistent behavioral response during continuous or repetitive activity. This is also known as alertness or vigilance.
- Selective Attention – This is the ability to maintain a cognitive set which requires activation and inhibition of responses dependent upon discrimination of stimuli. This system operated automatically and effortlessly. Many learning problems stem from deficits in selective attention.
- 3. Alternating Attention – The capacity for mental flexibility which allows for moving between tasks having different cognitive requirements.
- 4. Divided Attention – This is the ability to respond to multiple tasks simultaneously.
Arousal is a different mechanism which is controlled by the subcortical structures in the brain. Physiological weaknesses in the arousal system can often be the cause of many attention deficits. There are three major sources of stimulation for the arousal system. The first is from metabolic processes such as feeling hungry or thirsty. The second is the environment, for example , when loud noise makes you startle. The third, is in the higher cortical areas of the brain where cognitive planning and processing occurs. The arousal system is highly responsive to training, in particular, neurofeedback training.
Who Should Do Attention Training
Attention training can be done by anyone who has been diagnosed with any of the sub- types of ADHD, or anyone who experience symptoms related to ADHD. These symptoms vary tremendously and although many people are not formally diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder, difficulties with attention and arousal are common.
There are several diagnoses and conditions that present with deficits with attention. These diagnoses include:
- Learning Disabilities
- Memory Dysfunction
- Executive Dysfunction
- Language Deficits
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Auditory Processing Disorders
- Behavioral Disorders
- Common Signs/Symptoms of Attention Problems
- Short attention span
- Social immaturity
- Poor peer relations
- Shifts from one uncompleted activity to another
- Difficulties focusing
- Difficulties waiting for their turn in games
- Poor listening skills
- Often talks excessively
- Difficulties with test taking skills
- Difficulties learning new tasks
- Restless, always on the go
- Makes Careless Mistakes
- Poor follow through
Programs For Attention Training
The attention system is composed of both attention and arousal. Arousal is a factor that drives attention. Theoretically, low cortical arousal leads to poor behavioral control which results in behavioral overactivity which looks like hyperactivity. We know what structures of the brain are involved in arousal and how this system works. The arousal mechanism is located in the brain stem which is considered subcortical. The brain’s of unique system of communication between the cortical areas and the subcortical areas, such as the brain stem, makes highly effective attention and arousal training with neurofeedback possible. If the attention system is problematic, inappropriate arousal levels from the subcortical areas may be detected using a Brain Map/Qeeg. Neurofeedback training can be used to help the individual learn how to train and control their own physiological responses. Neurofeedback training is equally successful with deficits in the cortical functions related to the attention systems.
Working memory systems are commonly impaired n individuals with ADHD. The deficits that individual’s with ADHD experience with their attentional control center often results in difficulties with the “working” aspect of the working memory system. The ability to maintain a focused thought process and keep information in order to commit it to memory. The research has shown that after training with Cogmed, individual’s wth ADHD showed significant improvements in symptoms of inattention, disruptive behaviors among other things.
Working memory is an executive function that individuals are constantly using in their day to day lives. Working memory involves holding information in the mind for a short time and then manipulating that information in order to perform a given task. Research has demonstrated that poor working memory is the main underlying cause for learning challenges, poor job and academic performance, and difficulties with attention.
“The research has shown that with improved working memory comes improved overall attention, resistance to distractions, self-management skills and learning ability.”
Cogmed is a computer based training program that provides a variety of visual and auditory memory exercises to challenge the trainee’s working memory capacity. It is not a program that teaches skills, it is a program that helps reorganize the brain to provide a new platform for learning across all skills sets. The difficulty of each task is adjusted in real time based on the trainee’s performance. This allows for the trainee to be challenged enough but not to the point where they become frustrated and lose interest. The research has shown that with improved working memory comes improved overall attention, resistance to distractions, self-management skills and learning ability.
Attention Process Training
This program addresses the four main areas that are proven to be critical for learning. These four areas are: Sustained Attention, Selective Attention, Alternating Attention and Divided Attention. Each of these four components contain different hierarchies of treatment tasks. Although the program was originally designed for individuals with brain injury, it has proven to be a highly effective remediation program for a variety of conditions and attention challenges.
How Our Treatment is Different
Combining well researched and scientifically proven software programs with neurofeedback training accelerates the healing process and improves treatment outcomes. Most cognitive training programs are only able to address cortical levels of function and performance based skills.
Neurofeedback is able to capture the important subcortical contributions to the deficits in the attention and arousal systems.