My ADHD son loves to play puzzle-based video games. They are challenging, require problem-solving, and navigating novel environments. While my son enjoys playing these games, they are secretly improving his cognitive abilities and how his brain works. This is due to neuroplasticity—how our brains change in response to our environment and daily experiences.

Neuroplasticity is at work in your child when they learn a new concept in school, learn to ride a bike, or play an instrument. In recent years, research has focused on the benefit of neuroplasticity in improving executive function skills in children and adults with ADHD. When a cognitive training program, including planning, attention, memory, and problem-solving was assessed daily in ADHD children over a two-week period, volumetric increases in gray matter (neuronal cell bodies) were observed in brain areas commonly associated with ADHD. In other words, it’s possible that “brain training” can lead to an improvement in the executive function deficits prevalent in ADHD.

Summer vacation, when your child is away from the stressors of school, may be a good time to practice some skills to help your child rewire their ADHD brain for success.

My son has a self-balancing electric skateboard, and he had to learn to navigate alternate routes to the busy streets around his college campus. Exploring a new environment can enhance cognitive functioning through problem-solving, planning, and memory.

Within the past two decades, scientists have realized a connection between the cerebellum and other higher functioning brain regions (e.g. prefrontal cortex) responsible for cognitive functions like learning and memory. The cerebellum has a large concentration of dopamine neurons and is primarily responsible for motor control. Based on connections between the cerebellum and the prefrontal cortex, strengthening the cerebellum through balance exercises has been shown to improve executive function skills. ADHD experts Drs. Edward Hallowell and John Ratey suggest doing simple balance exercises like these:

Other activities like martial arts, skiing and skateboarding (all activities my son likes to do) are also good for practicing balance.

According to Dr. Ratey, exercise can help regulate emotional control and fidgetiness, and increase attention. More complicated exercises, such as martial arts, gymnastics, or mountain biking, have the greatest effect on improving focus and concentration, since you need to learn the skills for these technical and challenging activities (e.g. you don’t want to fall off your bicycle while riding on dangerous terrain).

Diffuse attention contributes to highly creative ADHD brains. Research studies suggest children with ADHD may be better at music and art. For my son, there was mandatory participation in either band or choir beginning in elementary school, and he chose to play the trumpet and stuck with it through high school (he also played piano). Music and art can help with important executive function skills like concentration, focus, memory, motor coordination (cerebellum-prefrontal cortex link), expressing emotions, and communicating.

If you are like me then you spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to get your ADHD child to STOP playing video games. However, playing video games can help teach your brain new skills through focus, problem-solving, navigating challenging situations, recovering from failure (emotional regulation), and motor coordination (cerebellum-prefrontal cortex link). The FDA has even approved a video game for the treatment of ADHD. Compliance won’t be an issue since most kids love gaming, just like my son who I am sure I would find playing one of his puzzle games if I went up to his bedroom. Just be sure to monitor playing time so there’s time left in the day to increase neuroplasticity in other ways too!

References

Hoekzema E, Carmona S, Ramos-Quiroga JA, Barba E, Bielsa A, Tremols V, Rovira M, Soliva JC, Casas M, Bulbena A, Tobeña A, Vilarroya O. Training-induced neuroanatomical plasticity in ADHD: a tensor-based morphometric study. Hum Brain Mapp. 2011 Oct;32(10):1741-9.

Hallowell, E. & Ratey, J. (2021). ADHD 2.0: New science and essential strategies for thriving with distraction—from childhood through adulthood. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Rapoport, J., Gogtay, N. Brain Neuroplasticity in Healthy, Hyperactive and Psychotic Children: Insights from Neuroimaging. Neuropsychopharmacol 33, 181–197 (2008).

Ratey, J.J., & Hagerman, E. (2013). Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Little, Brown.

Rawson, K. (n.d.) Balance Exercises: An Alternative Treatment for ADHD. Coachbit. https://coachbit.com/cb-parents/balance-exercises-an-alternative-treatm….

Raypole, C. (2020, June 17). 6 Ways to Rewire Your Brain. Healthline https://www.healthline.com/health/rewiring-your-brain.

QOSHE - Learn to Rewire Your ADHD Brain to Improve Cognitive Skills - Kristin Wilcox Ph.d
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Learn to Rewire Your ADHD Brain to Improve Cognitive Skills

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14.05.2024

My ADHD son loves to play puzzle-based video games. They are challenging, require problem-solving, and navigating novel environments. While my son enjoys playing these games, they are secretly improving his cognitive abilities and how his brain works. This is due to neuroplasticity—how our brains change in response to our environment and daily experiences.

Neuroplasticity is at work in your child when they learn a new concept in school, learn to ride a bike, or play an instrument. In recent years, research has focused on the benefit of neuroplasticity in improving executive function skills in children and adults with ADHD. When a cognitive training program, including planning, attention, memory, and problem-solving was assessed daily in ADHD children over a two-week period, volumetric increases in gray matter (neuronal cell bodies) were observed in brain areas commonly associated with ADHD. In other words, it’s possible that “brain training” can lead to an improvement in the executive function deficits prevalent in ADHD.

Summer vacation, when your child is away from the stressors of school, may be a good time to practice some skills to help your child rewire their ADHD brain for success.

My son........

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