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Beyond Ritalin: An Alternative Therapy for Kids with ADHD

ADHD, special needs, education

   If your child has been labeled "ADHD," you may already feel the pressure to pump him full of Ritalin. But while it's estimated that 6 million children will take Ritalin or other stimulant medications, that doesn't mean that it's right for your child.

   There are risks and side effects associated with stimulants: insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability, and a sense of emotional "numbness." And while some parents swear the benefits have helped get their children back on track in school, there is a growing movement toward non-drug therapies to help kids with ADHD. One that has proved particularly effective is "cognitive skills training."



What are cognitive skills?

"Cognitive skills are the essential, but often overlooked fundamental tools of effective learning," explains Ken Gibson, founder of LearningRx, a national franchise that specializes in cognitive skills training. "Learning isn't about how much you know, but how effectively you process or handle the information you receive. Cognitive skills are the underlying tools that enable kids to successfully focus, think, prioritize, plan, understand, visualize, remember and create useful associations, and solve problems."

Cognitive skills training helps children with learning disabilities attend to and process information.


How are weak cognitive skills identified?

Because cognitive skills function behind the scenes as you process the information received from every possible source, an appropriate assessment test is essential for the identification and treatment of weak cognitive skills.

There are, however, common traits that children with weak cognitive skills often display, including:


 • Difficulty paying attention

 • Poor test scores, grades or reading comprehension

 • Poor memory

 • Difficulty organizing activity

 • Poor study and work habits

 • Taking a long time to complete tasks

 • Disinterest (or dislike) in school


How does cognitive skills therapy help?

A child's cognitive skill set is made up of several cognitive skills including auditory processing, visual processing, short- and long-term memory, comprehension, logic and reasoning, and attention skills. Each can be divided into subskills. For example, attention is comprised of subskills of sustained attention (staying on task), selective attention (ignoring distractions) and divided attention (handling more than one task at a time). Each of these skills and subskills play a specific and necessary role, and must work in concert before an individual can learn effectively.

"There are specific programs and exercises that specialize in identifying and strengthening weak cognitive skills," says Gibson. "With the right program, most children who have been labeled as having ADHD, ADD or other learning disabilities can improve from three to five grade levels and about half the students no longer require medication."

Cognitive skills training may offer a more natural approach to learning disabilities with benefits of improved attention, higher grades, better performance, increased self-esteem, and - perhaps - a new love for learning!


Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer with more than 1,000 published pieces. Her third book, The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters, is available in most bookstores and on

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