In part three we explored the No child Left Behind Law instituted in 2002, its effect on the education process, and the added stress on teachers. In this segment, we’ll look at what may be causing your child to have ADHD symptoms, what you can do to help, and what your rights are when dealing with the school system.
In part two I talked about the fact that the diagnosis of ADHD was subjective and could be present in any normally active six-year-old; inattentiveness, the inability to sit for long periods of time, and impulsiveness. So what could we as parents be doing to contribute to this problem, and what can we do to correct it?
The human brain is an interesting topic. Without going into a dissertation on the cerebral cortex, I’ll attempt to give a brief overview. The brain is made up hundreds of neural networks that distribute messages to the rest of our body. When we’re born, these neural networks are essentially a blank slate. By patterns of behavior, we strengthen these networks, thus creating reactions to situations.
For example, in the 1800s, Ian Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, discovered the concept of brain conditioning by accident. Pavlov noticed that when his assistant entered the lab; the dog he fed would salivate, associating the assistant with being fed, even when it wasn’t time for a feeding. Pavlov went on further to train the dog to salivate when it heard a bell. He substituted the presence of his assistant with the bell, and proved that the dog would salivate when it heard the bell, even if it wasn’t fed.
When I was growing up, there was no such thing as the Internet, 24-hour TV, or video games (I may be dating myself). We had to create our own entertainment, usually by riding bikes in the neighborhood or a pickup game of basketball. And we never used the term “boredom,” because that meant we were given a chore of some sort to alleviate our boredom.
Fast forward to 1977 when we see the release of the Atari gaming system. While the graphics are no comparison to today’s PS4 or an Xbox One, in its day the Atari could entertain for hours. As gaming systems evolved, graphics got better and games became more stimulating, causing players to get lost for hours on end while attempting to save the world from whatever imaginative droid was trying to take over.
So if you take Pavlov’s theory of brain conditioning and associate it with the stimulation of video game graphics, there is a viable argument that video games can contribute to the symptoms of ADHD. If the brain is trained to function well in the highly stimulating environment of a fast-paced video game, it would make sense that it would struggle in the average classroom where a teacher could not compete with that high-stimulus environment.
So, if we’ve taught a child’s brain to function in a high-stimulus environment such as in a video game, how can we teach that same child’s brain to slow down so it can function in the average classroom where a teacher is standing in front of the room reading from a textbook? It’s simple in theory; we must recondition the brain to function when it’s less stimulated.
As stated in part three, I had the pleasure of working in a North Carolina school system for years. In my blog on children with disabilities, I shared my experience with that school system and my youngest son. What I failed to share in that blog was a relationship I created in hopes of helping other children struggling to be successful in a traditional classroom.
In 1998, I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Freer, then an IT teacher in the Asheville, NC school system. Freer’s passion for teaching, and his innate desire to help students who were struggling, started his long journey in developing Play Attention. In a nutshell, Freer took technology used by NASA, created a low-stimulus environment, the opposite of video games, and proved that through consistent and repetitive practice, a student could learn to pay attention in that environment.
When I met Peter in 1998, the school system I worked in purchased the program for every school in the district. I was so intrigued by the concept that I offered to spearhead the program. During the first year, we graduated twenty students from the program (40 hours of training makes the skills stick), and did so every year after that while I was involved in the project.
To this day, Freer is involved with Play Attention and sells the program worldwide. He has even adapted the program to help athletes and adults who struggle with ADHD. If you have a child who’s struggling with ADHD, I encourage you to visit Freer’s website and learn more about Play Attention.