Tag Archives: working memory

May I Have Your Undivided Attention? Fidget Spinners

 

Let’s just install ceiling fans in every classroom.

Ban Fidget Spinners with Bob Doman of NACDFidget spinners—what a wonderful invention—as though our children need something else to distract them. Let’s give children mini ceiling fans to carry around to help them pay attention—what a great idea! If spinning things help children concentrate, let’s just install ceiling fans in every classroom.

I have been arguing against giving kids on the Autism Spectrum fidgets for years. Do some kids on the spectrum like and want fidgets? Absolutely—they’re addicted to them. A fidget feeds their sensory addictions and helps keep them seated in their classroom chair when what is being presented quite possibly doesn’t fit them and goes on way past their auditory attention span. You attend to what you can process and if the input doesn’t fit your ability to process the information or what is being presented doesn’t match your knowledge/educational base, then you don’t pay attention to it (sadly this describes most children in most classrooms). Unfortunately, the operational definition of educational inclusion for children with developmental problems has really just come down to the kids sitting in desks and not making a fuss while surrounded by typical children. The special needs children then leave the classroom for a resource room where the instruction is hopefully more targeted and appropriate for the child. So, enter the fidget. The theory is that the fidgets help the children on the spectrum pay attention and avoid being distracted. As far as I know, there has been no good research to substantiate this, but I would suspect that if the research were directed at whether a fidget would keep a child sitting for longer periods the results would quite likely be positive. If, however, the study was testing whether the children learned more or if it helped their sensory issues, I believe the answer would be no. There has, however, been extensive research on the effects of any and all distractions while driving (paying attention) and the conclusion is that they are all bad. Try driving and watching your fidget spinner spin. You can give it another twirl if it stops and tell me if it makes you a safer driver.

One of the first things we recommend parents who have children on the spectrum do for their children who engage in visual DSAs (Debilitating Sensory Addictive behaviors), is to remove or a least not turn on any ceiling fans. As most parents with children on the spectrum with visual issues know, the kids will stare at ceiling fans endlessly if given the opportunity. None of these parents will tell you that their child is paying better attention or is more present while staring at the fan. The fan takes them away—it doesn’t help them focus or concentrate. Most visual stims or DSAs involve the child playing with and stimming with their peripheral vision. Your peripheral vision picks up movement and edges, both of which are stimulated in a negative fashion by ceiling fans, fidgets, waving fingers, staring at edges, etc. Fidget spinners not only distract with the visual aspect, but also with an audio and a tactile component—they hum and vibrate while they spin. So let’s have the child’s brain distracted with extraneous visual, auditory and tactile garbage and simultaneously help build a new addiction.

I’m sure to hear from “professionals” out there, particularly occupational therapists who just discovered that children have sensory issues, but having worked with Autistic children for fifty years and having learned how to help normalize their sensory issues, I am confident that feeding their addictions is not in their best interest in the long term. If the motivation and goal is to keep them content, in their seats and quiet at the cost of their development, then. . .

Now, enter the logic that begins with the erroneous premise that if fidgets help kids on the Spectrum pay attention, then perhaps they will help typical kids pay attention. Sadly many, if not most, children have successfully learned not to pay attention already and the last thing they need is another distraction. Parents and teachers often mistake the child looking in your general direction and apparently listening as attending. At best, we often mistake listening for paying attention. Listening is something you do when you’re watching your favorite sporting event and the game is tied with seconds to go and someone talks to you about the weather. Listening is something you do when you’re talking to someone on the phone while you’re checking your email. Ask the child who appears to be “listening” to repeat the last sentence of something you just said or read to them. When we talk about learning we are talking about changing the brain and to change the brain we need to put in specific appropriate input with sufficient frequency, intensity and duration. Of the three components, intensity is the most important. Intensity means focus and focus means that I have your undivided attention. We need to help teach children to focus and give undivided attention, otherwise parents and teachers are largely talking to themselves.

If we want to be proactive and improve focus and attention, we need to do a better job of targeting the input to fit the child. Teaching algebra to a child who still is struggling with basic math isn’t going to work. Speaking in paragraphs to a child who has difficulty following a two- or three-step direction doesn’t work. Making many children sit in a chair and attend for more than ten minutes without letting them get up and move around a bit generally doesn’t work either. We need to pay attention to the individual and teach to their knowledge level so they have some context within which to associate the information. We need to be aware of the child’s processing ability (short –term and working memory) and target the structure of the input to fit them. We need to provide educational environments as free of extraneous distractions as possible—not contribute to them—and we need to focus upon the neurodevelopmental foundation and help build the child’s ability to learn, communicate and function.

Many children across the county are learning not to attend, not be present and sadly are learning that learning itself isn’t fun, isn’t exciting and that it doesn’t work for them.

Ban Fidget Spinners!

—Bob

NACD Dad Power

Dad Power!

I just heard from another Dad letting me know how great he feels about Simply Smarter. Many Dads feel lousy about their lack of participation in their kids’ educations and development. They tend not to get too involved (beyond screaming about poor grades) for a variety of reasons—lack of time, they’re too busy or can’t commit to being consistent—they don’t feel they have the temperament and often because they’re out of their comfort zones and don’t feel like they really know what they’re doing.

NACD’s online program Simply Smarter has been a game changer for many Dads and has taught them how to use their “Dad Power.”

I have worked my entire career to help people understand that potential is something you work to achieve and that it is not a reflection of what you were born with. The entire educational system is built around curriculum, not students. Educators should perceive every student as having a brain that needs to be developed as opposed to a brain that needs to be stuffed. You don’t develop brains and cognition by trying to stuff more into them; you develop brains by building their foundations. What is the foundation? The base of the foundation is auditory and visual short-term memory, upon which we build working memory and executive function. What does the foundation do?

The foundation, starting with short-term memory, determines how many pieces of information you can process. This includes how much of what is being said actually reaches your brain, how much of what you see or read actually reaches your brain and is partially reflected in what you actually can and do pay attention to. Your short-term memory is the basis of your working memory, which determines how many pieces of information you can manipulate in your mind, which translates into how well you can think. Working memory is the foundation of executive function which is responsible for things like problem solving, focus, attention, prioritization, inhibition, impulse control, cognitive flexibility and the ability to organize and act on thoughts, just to name a few. It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to see how improving all of these functions would and could change virtually everything you do—including making learning, thinking, communicating and functioning easier. Working memory is now being called the new “IQ” and as it should. It doesn’t matter a hoot what your innate intelligence is if you can’t access it. Smarter is better and we can all be smarter. Would you be shocked to hear that smarter students and people in general do better? I hope not.

Back to Dad and where Simply Smarter comes in. When we were designing the activities in Simple Smarter to address and build the foundation, I realized that a couple of key ingredients needed to be included in addition to really individually targeted activities and progressions, such as easy and independent use—something that could be done without direct supervision. Most anyone functioning at the level of an eight-year-old or better can do Simply Smarter from beginning to end all by himself or herself. But, I needed a way for there to be oversight as well as acknowledgement of effort and success, reinforcement and oversight of compliance—meaning that it is being done as often as required. What we have built into Simply Smarter (Dads pay attention here), are a variety of internal badges, rewards and scores, as well as a customizable email notification system. This email system is set up so that anyone who is designated such as Mom, Grandma, Coach Smith, or DAD will receive emails every time the child receives a new high score, which happens often, as long as they are trying their best. It also sends compliance emails so you know if you child or children are using the program as often as you would like them to. So Dad, you can be sitting at your office or checking email on your phone and find out, low and behold Johnny got a new high score! Imagine coming home and yelling “Where’s Johnny?” Johnny comes running in from his X-Box or PlayStation wondering what he did now and you scoop him up and say “Johnny you’re the best—congratulations on your new Simply Smarter high score, I’m really proud of you!” You might have just changed his life—how cool is that! You don’t even need to be in town—a special call from Dad can be really powerful too.

Dad, you’ve got the power! Use it well, use it wisely and use it often.

Dad Power!

– Bob

For more information about how to set up email notifications in Simply Smarter, please visit: http://mysimplysmarter.com/faq/faq-how-do-i-set-up-email-notifications/

 

The Foundation of Education - Scissors? NACD Blog

The Foundation of Education—Scissors?

I just conducted a Skype evaluation with a parent who has a developmentally delayed, ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) child from our Beijing chapter, one of NACD’s international hubs. This mom made a remark that I have heard probably thousands of times through the years, but realizing that the issue she brought up is international and not just a US issue has compelled me to comment.

This mother of a three-year-old who cannot not dress or undress himself, one of the foundational representations of independence and fine motor skills, commented that she was concerned her child may have a fine motor problem, not because her child couldn’t remove his sock, but because the preschool he attended was waving a red flag since this little three-year-old was not yet cutting with scissors. Really!

I have long wanted to ban scissors from preschools, but if we were to do that what would they do all day? Children can only eat so much paste. What criteria could they use for success, what would they use to validate their existence?

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am a bit biased on this subject. In 1951 I flunked cutting with scissors. Yes, I confess I flunked. It was my first and actually not my last academic disaster. I was shamed and humiliated. I never should have flunked cutting with scissors even though I was five, I really shouldn’t have been encouraged to use scissors. But beyond that, there was actually a reason why I flunked cutting with scissors. I was left-handed and back then they didn’t make left-handed or uni-hand scissors—which don’t really work with either hand.

Cutting with scissors can actually be used as a metaphor for a number of issues with education, that being just because we/they have been using it forever doesn’t make it right, smart or neuro-developmentally correct.

I am genetically predisposed to be left-handed and left-sided and as with many of us lefties, we do not clearly demonstrate which is our dominant hand as early as right-sided children. From the get-go the world encourages us to use our right hand like the majority of the population. Back when I was starting school everyone wrote with their right hand. Right was right and left was wrong. Even though we lefties know that only left-sided people are in their right minds. In countries like China that is still the case—everyone is taught to write with the right hand.

Children typically do not strongly and conclusively demonstrate a dominant hand until they are globally, neuro-developmentally about a 5*. For children with a developmental issue, that point is often not reached until years later than their chronological peers. So, should we really be encouraging and pushing one-hand, dominant-hand activities like writing and cutting before we even know which hand the child should be using?

If children must go to preschool, how about teaching them how to actually start becoming independent. Dressing and undressing themselves might be a good start, making their bed, or even cleaning up after themselves. Montessori schools often do a good job of teaching children how to manage self-help skills and household tasks. But cutting with scissors? I can often go from Christmas to Christmas without ever touching a pair of scissors. Since when was cutting a four-year-old’s survival skill or foundational fine motor function? Perhaps its a four- or five-year-old rite of passage that they need to cut their hair just that one time to see how they look with that bald spot in front.

Ranking right up there with “cutting with scissors” is writing and we really shouldn’t just blame preschool and kindergarten teachers, we need to throw in some occupational therapists as well. Teachers and therapists—please stop trying to make little children develop one-hand dominant skills like writing and cutting before they are neuro-developmentally ready. Not until most children are neuro-developmentally about a 5* can we accurately and safely determine which is their dominant hand. Prior to that time, they can swing back and forth. Besides, what is the rush? You are often not only teaching a child a one-handed skill and pushing them toward that hand, but you are probably doing it before their working memory, attention and motor planning are up to the task. The result being that you are only succeeding in teaching them that they can’t do it properly. Congratulations, they have learned to hate it! Our NACD cardinal rule of education is that step number one is teaching the child to love whatever it is you are trying to teach. Failure doesn’t teach them to love writing or cutting with scissors.

So much of education is based on perpetuating a list of things to teach children in different grades, regardless of whether or not it is meaningful, relevant, neuro-developmentally appropriate or if anyone really expects the student to understand, assimilate or remember it. We often take little children who prior to beginning their “education” love learning anything and spend the next twelve or more years teaching them to hate learning anything—brilliant!

Part of this tragedy is that there is so much that could be and should be done with all children, not the least of which is building a neuro-developmental foundation that actually gives them access to their innate intelligence and really affects not only their education, but their ability to learn, think and communicate—their futures. It’s the 21st Century and it’s about time that the educational system understood that children have these things they carry around between their ears that we call brains and that we have the ability to develop them all, not just try to push things into them. We can build a foundation of auditory and visual processing, short-term memory, working memory, executive function, visualization, and conceptualization and overall neurological efficiency. I would love to see our classrooms and schools receive report cards based on how well they are creating children’s foundations for learning, turning children onto learning and actually educating them. And please, let’s stop making a big deal about little children cutting with scissors.

 – Bob Doman

*We will generally acknowledge a child as being neuro-developmentally 5 when they have short-term and working memory that is commensurate with where we like to see five-year-olds. Specifically having short-term memory (auditory and visual digit spans of 5) and working memory (reverse auditory and visual digit spans of 4). Working memory is the foundation of executive function and determines complexity of thought and relates to global maturity.

Related Blog Articles:

Mila and Avery

Facundo

Making Kids Smart Isn’t Tough

To learn more about how you can work on you or your child’s short-term and working memory, check out the following links:

The Simply Smarter System (Windows/Mac)

NACD Cognition Coach – Toddler to 3 (iPad)

NACD Cognition Coach – Ages 3 to 5 (iPad)

Hurray for Preschool! Or not.

This video clip is obviously very cute, the emotion and trauma really sad, all too real and perhaps totally unnecessary.

The importance and relevance of the relatively new phenomena of preschool should be evaluated on an individual basis. Preschools did not exist 50 years ago; children did not leave home to attend any kind of school until they were 5 or 6.

One of the things that they used to scare us children who were growing up in the fifties, back in the “Better Dead than Red” days, was that in Russia they made children go to school before they were even five years old and were even going to start making children go to government schools as young as two or three. Horrifying! Scare-you-to-death-and-keep-you-up-at-night terrifying.

What happened to change our perception?

What happened was the economy and the society, moms needing to go to work, dramatic increase in unmarried teen pregnancies and single parent homes, as well as fewer extended families. What started out as necessity for some families started to be perceived as not only the norm, but as optimal. Today families who do not send their children to preschool are often perceived as depriving their children.

For children in disadvantaged homes, a good preschool is a good thing, and often a very good thing; but an educated parent at home with their preschool age children is really tough to beat.

One of the tremendously important things that the preschool movement appears to have cost many of our children is auditory processing (short-term and working memory), the foundation of how we learn and think. The lion’s share of development in auditory and visual processing typically occurs in our first five years of life. I believe that there has been a significant drop in the rates and level of development in auditory processing during these years of expansion of day-care and preschool. For infants and young children, nothing beats one-on-one verbal interaction with the person who knows the child best, the parent. We trigger neuroplasticity, grow the brain by providing it with the right, specific input, delivered with frequency, intensity, and duration. The worse the student-to-adult/teacher ratio, the less specific the input, and the less overall input any specific child receives. Even the drop from 1:1 to 2:1 dramatically affects the quality and specificity of the input. Everyone knows that one of the fastest ways to accelerate any child’s learning curve is to provide him or her with more 1:1, not less.

Do we need preschools? Sadly, “yes” for some, not because it presents an optimal situation, but rather because of the realities of many of our children’s homes and lives. Some politicians are talking about mandatory preschool. Wow, where did I hear that before? I guess they think they know what is best for our children.

Click below to learn more about how the Cognition Coach iPad apps for Toddlers (Toddler to 3) and Preschool (3-5) can increase short-term and working memory.

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“Read Slowly and Change Your Brain”

wall-street-journalThe banner across the top of today’s Wall Street Journal read: ”Read Slowly and Change Your Brain.” The accompanying article didn’t actually extol the benefits of reading reaaallly slowly, but rather the benefits of actually reading books, literature, and fiction, which is sadly becoming a more and more rare phenomenon.  Apparently the number of those over 18 who read is getting smaller and smaller. A study in 2011 indicated that only 76% of this population had actually read a book in a year. The article is worth a read, a slow read, not a scan or an “F” pattern read. (An “F” pattern read is reading the first line, then scanning down the left side and reading just the first few words on the left side of a few lines.)

The article lists the benefits of properly reading books. This included:

  • Deepens empathy and provides pleasure
  • Heightens concentration
  • Enhances comprehension, particularly of complex material
  • Improves listening skills
  • Enriches vocabulary
  • Reduces stress

Not a bad list, and let’s add relaxing, entertaining, thought provoking, educational, and, yes, it does change your brain. What a deal!

One of my ongoing concerns about our society is what I perceive to be a drop in processing skills. The lower the processing ability (short-term and working memory), the more simplistic is thought. The ability to think is rather important, and people who can think seem to becoming fewer and further between. I’m girding myself as we get started in a new election cycle. I hate to see and hear one more election that is orchestrated by those who should be selling breakfast cereal rather than explaining the views of a politician in one-liners. Perhaps if the majority of the population could process better and understand more, we could actually look at issues in depth and we wouldn’t need to sum everything up with a one-liner.

Take some time and read a book; actually, lots of books.