5 Reasons Your Child Might Need Brain Training (Not Tutoring)
Is your child struggling in school? As a parent, it’s sometimes difficult to choose the best intervention for your children. You ask the pediatrician, your child’s teacher, and even other parents for recommendations when what you really want is an expert in thinking and learning to just tell you what to do! Ah, if it were only that easy. It’s not. Every child has unique needs and there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for every learning struggle. But…here are 5 reasons to consider brain training for your child who is struggling to learn:
1. Your Child is Easily Distracted
Does your child have difficulty staying on task? (With the exception of video games which are engaging enough to hold even the most distractible child’s attention for long periods of time!) Children with poor attention skills struggle with concentration, persevering on difficult or unenjoyable tasks, or staying focused on the job at hand. They are easily distracted by noise and motion in their environment. (That’s where the squirrel jokes come from.) Perhaps your child even has a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or you suspect that may be the case. Brain training might help by targeting and remediating weak attention skills. There is a growing body of research to support the use of brain training for attention problems, particularly when the intervention is delivered in-person by a cognitive training specialist rather than on a computer.
2. Your Child is Struggling in More than One Class
The subjects your child is learning in school are all different, right? Math, science, social studies, and language arts don’t share many commonalities. So, if your child is only struggling in one of those subjects, chances are he may have missed some valuable instruction at some point. A tutor can help re-teach that critical information to help him catch up with the rest of the class. But, if your child is performing poorly in more than one class, the common denominator probably isn’t missed content. Instead, it may be a weakness in one or two underlying learning skills—called cognitive skills, or skills the brain uses for processing information. They include memory, attention, processing speed, reasoning, and visual and auditory processing to name a few. Brain training can strengthen weak cognitive skills that are needed for thinking and learning. But, it’s important to choose a brain training program that targets all of them—not just memory or attention. (That’s like having a broken arm and a broken leg but only putting a cast on one of them!)
3. Your child has difficulty reading and writing
Learning the English language is hard! With so many exceptions to all the rules, it’s no wonder many children struggle early on. (The brain isn’t designed for written language. That’s something we invented.) But, if your child received adequate reading instruction in school and still struggles to read and write fluently, she may have weak auditory processing skills. Auditory processing is the ability to analyze, blend, and segment speech sounds and to accurately connect the sounds to a corresponding code (letters or combinations of letters in the alphabet). Children who struggle to connect sounds to codes haven’t developed what we call phonemic awareness—a critical auditory processing skill required for reading and writing fluently. Auditory processing skills can be strengthened with a brain training program that targets these very specific skills. For the struggling reader, these skills won’t develop or improve without deliberate, focused assistance.
Homework Takes Extra Time and Too Much Effort for Your Child
Advanced Placement and Honors classes aside, schoolwork should take a reasonable amount of time and effort for your child to complete. If your child works very slowly and every line, word, or problem is effortful, there may be an underlying weakness in one or more cognitive skills. Processing speed is the rate in which your child can accurately take in information, use it, and accomplish a task. If processing speed is weak, tasks will take longer than they should. Frequently, weak processing speed is accompanied by a weakness in other cognitive skills—such as attention. Imagine how much of a struggle schoolwork can be for a child who cannot work as fast as his peers and is distracted by every noise and movement in the room! A brain training program that targets multiple cognitive skills may be the right choice for children like this. No amount of tutoring can change these struggles.
5. Tutoring Hasn’t Fixed Your Child’s Struggles
There are two aspects to learning: information and how we process information. A tutor provides information. Sometimes it’s new information that a child missed and sometimes it’s old information that just didn’t “stick” the first time it was taught. But if your child can’t effectively process the information, he can’t retain it or use it. If you’ve tried working with a tutor to help your child with his learning struggles and he’s still struggling, it may be an information processing problem…not an information problem. Recall that information is processed by multiple cognitive skills. A brain training program that targets those skills may be what your child needs to overcome his struggles with learning. Targeting the cause of the struggle—weak cognitive skills—should diminish the need to re-teach information over and over again.
From my brain to yours-
Amy Lawson Moore, PhD
Cognitive & Educational Psychologist
Gibson Institute of Cognitive Research