Attention woes addressed without use of medication


play attentionMARYSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Sierra Lewis was having trouble with her schoolwork. She just couldn't concentrate.

"She's been having problems with staying focused," said her mom, Nancy Lewis of Marysville.

The school, Bible Baptist in Shiremanstown, didn't seem like an issue. It doesn't have a disruptive atmosphere.

So it came back to the 12-year-old and what is often described as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — a persistent pattern of abnormally high levels of activity, impulsiveness or inattention. The answer is usually Ritalin.

Nancy Lewis thought there might be a better way.

So twice a week, Sierra straps on a bike helmet that measures brain waves, and she works with video games that challenge her to pay attention.

"Kids who really have attention problems, they don't know what it feels like to pay attention," said G. David Smith, psychologist and president of Riverside Associates on Green Street, where Sierra has been going since July. "We teach them self-awareness and self-management, and not to be dependent on medication or on other people."

Smith and behavior specialist Katie Manning use the video software to teach their clients focusing skills, which the children can then transfer to the classroom and elsewhere.

To be nice, they call the video software a game.

"Play Attention" is a virtual reality system with a helmet attached to a computer. It's a difficult reality. Some of the games don't start until the helmet registers the brain waves that indicate the child is paying attention.

"The system projects that on a screen so kids can see when they hit it, and then use that as a way to get themselves in gear," Smith said.

The training techniques were developed by researchers working with brain injuries, particularly those of the frontal lobe, which Smith says mimics ADHD.

"These injuries produce problems in what are called executive functions, which have to do with planning, understanding cause-and-effect relationships and withholding the impulse to act," he said.

<a href=""><img src=""></a> The video training teaches the children to focus on a shape as it moves around the video screen, for instance. It also helps them control their impulses by requiring the child to respond with a click of a button to certain images.

During the video sessions, Manning notes disruptive behaviors on a checklist and programs them into the virtual reality system to show how fidgeting or looking around the room interferes with the ability to focus.

The skills are eventually applied to real situations such as doing homework.

"We try to incorporate the school as much as possible," Manning said.

They also imitate home situations, which will help the children apply the acquired skills when their parents give them instructions to do something

"We never ask a kid to do something we think he can't do. It's almost like lifting weights. You get the kid lifting comfortably, then you add a pound. Not 10," Smith said. "The idea is to teach the kids that they can do this and they can use these skills, and generalize these skills."

These days, Sierra Lewis is able to ignore the chatter of her classmates and ambient noise that used to bother her. Her report cards are improving.

"We thought we'd try this program and see if it would help her to concentrate," her mother said. "I think it has. She does very well with the program."

The Riverside training system is currently working with about eight children, and it has worked with 20 or so in the past six years.

Smith is authorized to provide the treatment to children on Medicaid. Otherwise, the program costs $55 a session or $2,600 for the course.

"Insurance companies won't pay," Smith said. "They'd rather pay for medication."

source - Patriot News