Playtimes April 2014 - page 85

mere fifth percentile, which meant that
some information she was receiving
was not being retained and could not
be processed.
The girl was diagnosed with
a learning difficulty, and though
this caused alarm at first, growing
awareness soon led to a calm resolve
for all concerned. Trudy gave herself a
crash-course in memory function and
she learned the intricacies of short-
term, long-term and working memory.
Armed with this new awareness of
her student, Trudy devised a routine
to try to improve the girl’s spelling:
creating flash cards of complex words
divided into root and a variety of
prefixes and suffixes; having the girl
manipulate the parts of the word while
saying the word and spelling it out.
In her layman’s terms, Trudy says she
was trying to “push” the information
through the girl’s short-term memory
into her working memory and long-
term memory. It was intensive drill
work and it was tedious, but the student
was compliant. Trudy also knew that
she needed to break up the lesson
from time to time with other, fun,
activities. The student did indeed show
progress in her spelling results. And
Trudy looks at her own children a little
differently now, often wondering how
their cognitive brain functions affect
the way they learn and act and become
who they are becoming.
What can a parent do?
It seems all parents would be well
served to simply be aware of how their
child’s brain functions; it could help to
explain certain behavioural traits and
might result in parents modifying their
own, reactive, behaviour. If problems
with study were perceived, a cognitive
brain assessment could unlock the door
to awareness and remedial therapies.
In fact, comprehensive cognitive brain
skills assessment is a growth industry.
More and more parents are availing
themselves of the services of cognitive
skills trainers – brain training – for
their kids.
Not only do such assessment and
training centres provide the means
to improve student productivity
and results, these centres are being
established globally to help people
gain a competitive edge. Advocates
claim that brain training can improve
severe behavioural problems, as well
as conditions such as ADHD, autism
and Asperger’s syndrome. It has also
proven to be effective in boosting the
mental fitness of seniors. We have
really only recently started to believe
that we can change the way our brain
works, if we want to, even as our bodies
and brains physically deteriorate with
age. We can improve and rejuvenate
our brains just as surely as we can get
our bodies back into shape if we try.
Neuroplasticity is the explanation.
“The brain is malleable, so
, which means it can be
trained and improved at any age,”
says Ulysse Wurtz, managing director
of PowerBrain Rx Ltd., a cognitive
skills assessment and training centre
here in Hong Kong. At the centre,
participants are first assessed, and if
a cognitive weakness is discovered, a
series of training sessions would be the
recommended therapy.
A basic understanding of cognitive
brain function, potential weaknesses
and how they present in our children
is straightforward enough. Cognitive
skills include: attention, processing
speed, working memory, auditory
processing, visual processing, logic and
reasoning, and long-term memory. If,
for example, you suspect your child
takes too long to do his homework,
it may be the result of a weakness in
processing-speed function. But he may
still excel, if he has excellent reasoning
and top-notch long-term memory (as
well as sufficient time). Poor reading
skills may be a result of a weakness in
auditory processing. A weakness in
visual processing function may present
in one individual as a difficulty in
solving mathematical word problems.
Every person will possess their own
unique combination of strengths and
relative weaknesses across the range of
cognitive skills, and this will manifest
in an individual in unique ways
depending, also, on things like family
tradition, self-discipline and social
New paths
But brain training is not always, like
in the case of Trudy and her student,
a matter of tutoring in content with
repetitive and intensive drill work.
Such methods can achieve a measure
of success, but they may not be
long-lasting, and they likely won’t
lead to improvement in other subject
areas. Any cognitive weakness will
remain if the underlying skills are
not strengthened through targeted
training. Brain training is a method
of increasing cognitive brain skills
by stimulating the brain in a way
that creates new neural connections.
Studies with people who have
experienced brain trauma through
accident or other conditions have
shown that the neurons in the brain
can form new paths, restoring and
even increasing brain function.
Brain training isn’t just an option
for your kids, either. Perhaps your
parents, or you yourself, eat blueberries
and do the daily crossword trying
to keep the old brain faithful. If you
ever watched the 1970’s TV series
The Six Million Dollar Man
, you would
have enjoyed the lark imagining
the notion that we could rebuild
Steve Austin. But next time you are
wondering where you left your keys
or your reading glasses, don’t fret.
Why not look yourself in the mirror
and say: Brain, we can rebuild you –
better, stronger, faster. And then go
for a comprehensive cognitive skills
assessment and some brain training.
Don’t forget, now.
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