How Memory, Focus and Good Teaching Can Work Together to Help Kids Learn

How Memory, Focus and Good Teaching Can Work Together to Help Kids Learn

How Memory, Focus and Good Teaching Can Work Together to Help Kids Learn

New experimental thinking recently published in the online-only Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAAAP) suggests that memory and the ability to focus are linked in some children.

The research, led by Ellen L. Alberts, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, used data from the Relinquishing Bipolar Disorder Patient Study, which involved children and adolescents who received treatment at Stanford Children’s Hospital.

During the study, researchers surveyed the patients regarding memories of events and and activities that happened in the last year and asked about the ability to remember and focus. The study’s participants who reported having trouble with one or both of these memory and focus tasks were less likely to graduate from high school or go on to college.

The study also showed that those children who had memory and focus deficits, in addition to having ADHD, had subclinical bipolar disorder. The results suggest that people with bipolar disorder also have impaired ability to focus and to remember.

This means that for this population of children and adolescents, the inability to focus, which is linked to memory, may be the root cause of other mental health problems.

The research provides support for a different perspective on ADHD, one that focuses on the psychological impact of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) rather than the behavioral response of its symptoms.

Co-author of the paper, David C. Lorber, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, notes that there are different levels of ADHD, much as there are different levels of memory impairment. “ADHD affects the frontal lobe of the brain, and so kids whose ADHD becomes worse might have more difficulty focusing and integrating their thoughts,” he said.

“Children with ADHD usually learn fine-motor skills, reading, math, writing. The language domains are harder for kids with ADHD,” said Alberts. The results of this study suggest that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and related problems are connected with issues such as memory and focus.

Lead author and study coordinator Jennifer M. McRorie, PhD, an associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of California, Davis, reflected, “The idea that an inability to focus can co-occur with ADHD seems counterintuitive, but it follows that ADHD is associated with learning disabilities and poor academic performance, so it makes sense that a couple of related issues could co-occur.

“A theory that could resolve this confusion involves the concept of the arousal chip, an inner, always-on part of the brain that helps us focus. It’s known that kids with ADHD who have difficulty paying attention tend to be more agitated and that their activity chip becomes activated. In one previous study, we found that very high levels of activity in the arousal chip are associated with worse math, reading and writing skills.”

To highlight the connection between ADHD and poor memory and focus, the researchers analyzed the academic record of subjects with the disorder. Only those children who had poor cognitive functioning and poor attention deficit, who also scored poorly on measures of memory and focus, had intellectual handicaps.

The authors note that next research should focus on a three-phase intervention for children and teens with ADHD. The first phase involves cognitive-behavioral therapy for individuals with ADHD, to help them learn to stay focused. The second phase would focus on ADHD behaviors and drug therapy, as a means of increasing the brain’s connectivity. The final phase would help children and adolescents make sense of the preschool and early elementary grades, which may have a negative impact on ADHD symptoms and attention capacity.

This three-phase treatment “might make it possible for children with ADHD to learn to focus better, which may in turn improve their learning ability and functioning in school,” said Alberts.

Source: Stanford University

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How Memory, Focus and Good Teaching Can Work Together to Help Kids Learn

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