Thursday, August 2, 2007

Educating the Child about his Brain - Understanding is the first step in taking charge

By Gloria Kay Vanderhorst, Ph.D.

Neurocognitive Psychotherapy is a brain-based treatment approach that is a unique blend of cognitive-behavioral therapy and cognitive rehabilitation. This approach is a team approach based in the most recent research on brain functioning and ADHD. This article is the first in a series that will illustrate how neurocognitive psychotherapy is applied in treating children with ADHD.
The key to building a treatment plan is to understand how the brain works in general and to discover how the brain of a particular child is functioning specifically. This brain based approach starts with a neuropsychological evaluation that enables us to measure various aspects of executive function, memory function, and processing abilities. This evaluation may also examine emotional strengths and resources that the child has been using to cope with the stress of learning and living.
Once a diagnosis of ADHD has been made, educating the child about the specific strengths and weaknesses in their brain is the next step. I will use a variety of techniques to help the child see and understand how his or her brain is functioning. Pictures of brains from web sites showing fMRIs have been very helpful. With the fMRI, we can see different areas of the brain light up as one thinks and problem solves. You may want to log on to to take your own tour of different brain images. We may also use brain models, or build our own using found objects in the office. Sometimes we will make drawings or abstract art that represents the various functions of the brain and how they interact with each other.
As a child comes to understand how his own brain is working, he is encouraged to present his understanding in a family session as a means of educating others in the family. In this way, the child is given power over the ADHD. The stigma that has been associated with inattentive or hyperactive behavior is replaced by knowledge that empowers the child to take more control over his life. The earlier this empowering process can begin, the more opportunity the child has to build compensating strategies, make changes in his environment and develop supportive relationships. Educating the child about his own brain, how it works, and how he can help make it work best is a central part of neurocognitive psychotherapy - de-stigmatizing the brain patterns we refer to as ADHD and giving the child a sense of understanding and control.