Enhancing Your Child’s Learning Through Cogmed Training

byMoshe Shtuhl, Ph.D.

In our newsletter we have often emphasized the importance of children learning to manage their feelings and to strengthen their emotional intelligence. This set of skills makes up what is referred to as EQ (Emotional Quotient). Research has repeatedly confirmed that EQ is not only vital to personal development but may actually be a more important indicator than IQ (Intelligence Quotient) when predicting your child’s well-being and success.

In recent years, another set of skills referred to as the Executive Functions have come to the forefront of studies, and, just like EQ, have helped us better understand and address children’s needs. The executive functions are a set of skills that help a person manage and coordinate his or her thinking and behavior and play a cardinal role in helping children prepare for and succeed in school.

It was believed that our executive functions were established at an early age and were not amendable to change. Today, we know that this is not the case. Indeed, research has shown that life experiences and specialized activities can stimulate the growth of executive functions.

The highly regarded Science Journal recently published a scientific review titled,Interventions Shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4 to 12 Years Old,”that reviews several activities that develop one’s executive functions. The article begins with a description of Cogmed Working Memory and the research confirming its efficacy. Cogmed Working Memory is a training program that strengthens working memory, an important element of executive function.

For the last five years, Family Compass has been providing Cogmed training to our children. We are proud to have been one of the first five practices in the US to offer this innovative cognitive training. Over the years we have had more than 80 children going through this training. We have found it to be helpful for most children in that it enabled them to perform better academically. Our perception of the program’s benefits was further reinforced by a growing number of studies published in various peer reviewed journals, culminating with the aforementioned Science Journal article.

So, what are Executive Functions?

The term “executive functions,” alludes to the multitude of tasks our brains perform in order to think, act, and problem solve. Accomplished primarily by the front part of the brain, executive functions can be thought of as the managerial component of the brain. Like a conductor in an orchestra, executive functions direct and coordinate the “brain orchestra”. With a weakened conductor, the coordination of learning and task completion is accomplished less well. Learning a text, organizing toys, remembering a sequence of ballet steps, as well as stopping when necessary (or inhibition—the opposite of impulsivity), are all controlled by executive functions.

What is “Working Memory”?

A key element of executive functions is the capacity to keep information in mind while simultaneously performing related computations or actions. It enables people to take in information, process it, and hold it ready for use. As such, working memory is necessary for focusing on homework, blocking out distraction by keeping the task in mind, helping us pay attention, and keeping us mentally present with what’s going on around us.

Throughout our daily life, we utilize our working memory. It helps us perform accurately in academic, professional, and social settings. At school it is essential for, among other things, reading comprehension, mental math, memorizing facts, as well as flourishingly interacting with peers.

Every child has unique strengths and weaknesses due to their unique executive functions profile. However, one group of children, teens, and adults who exhibit more significant challenges with their executive functions, are those with an attention disorder (ADHD). Helping children with ADHD to strengthen their executive functions is often critical to enabling them fulfill their potential.

This brings me back to the Science Journal article described above. The authors, Drs. Adele Diamond and Kathleen Lee, emphasize four important findings that emerged from a review of the studies done with Cogmed.

  1. Cogmed is efficacious. In other words, the program helps children with learning. Specifically, the article says: “[T]he most researched approach, and one repeatedly found successful, is Cogmed (Pearson Education, Upper Saddle River,NJ) computerized working-memory training”.
  2. Children using Cogmed show improved working memory abilities not only on the training tasks, but on other tasks that require working memory. Though it seems obvious, this is what we are really after, not only improving performance on the training, but improving performance on real life tasks.
  3. The training is especially helpful for children who have a significant challenge with working memory, primarily (though not exclusively) children with an attention disorder or ADHD.
  4. Studies evaluating performance six months after completion of the training have shown real life gains. In other words, the positive changes “stick”. The thinking is that once children strengthen their working memory they use it more, leading to further self strengthening.

What does the program consists of?

The Cogmed training consists of 25, 30-45 minute, computerized sessions. Each session includes a selection of various tasks that target different aspects of working memory. The training can be done at home or school. The training program is five weeks long with five sessions every week. It is a rigorous program and the child is closely monitored and guided by a Cogmed Coach to ensure the child gains the most from the program. This emphasis on the quality of the work stems from the research. It has shown that the brain circuits that perform working memory tasks are strengthened best by the more intensive work offered by this program.

To learn more about the program please call our office manager and she will schedule a time with me (Dr. Moshe Shtuhl) to discuss whether this program might be right for your child. You can also email me at moshe.shtuhl@familycompassgroup.com.