b-Calm: An MP3 Player for ADHD and Autism Symptoms?

b-Calm, an ADHD-friendly product, claims to help reduce outbursts and distraction, while improving focus, writing, and math comprehension when used by children with autism disorders and/or attention deficit in a classroom setting. Does it work?

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b-Calm Gets Tested in the Classroom

In 2009, b-Calm teamed up with eight special education teachers around the state of Iowa to test the product in the classroom (offering free b-Calm sets but no funding). Participating teachers observed elementary school kids on the autism spectrum, as well as those with ADD/ADHD. They took note of their students’ purposes for using b-Calm (trouble with concentration, math, reading, relaxation, independent work, and test taking were among the reasons) and the number of times and duration for which b-Calm was used. Teachers rated b-Calm’s effectiveness on a 0-to-5 scale, with 5 as the most effective. With 17 evaluations, the average rating given to the product was a 4.4.

Jo Aukes, a special education teacher in Ankeny, Iowa, was among the first group of teachers to test the device in the classroom. She formally evaluated the device’s efficacy with one student, and she chose to use it with several others. Aukes has seen some startling results: One student scored 20 to 40 percent on a reading test without the device and 70 to 80 percent with it. Another student doubled his score on a three-minute writing test when using b-Calm.

Aukes observed b-Calm provide relief in nonacademic arenas as well. A girl with autism, who, day after day, had been too overwhelmed to eat, to the point of noticeable weight loss, ate her entire lunch during the first use. Noticing how b-Calm helped the student, one of her peers suggested the girl be allowed to use the device in the gym, where she'd also been suffering from overstimulation. b-Calm helped there, according to Aukes. “The student does not usually participate in P.E. due to the loud noise and amount of organized chaos ... [She] was able to engage more in playing the games with her classmates... She was able to look like she was part of the group today,” Aukes wrote in her b-Calm evaluation.

An elementary school teacher at the time of the trials, Aukes now teaches middle school. She introduced teachers and students to the use of b-Calm there and uses it with students to this day. Aukes notes that because b-Calm is a typical MP3 player, it’s discreet. When a child wears it, she looks like a “normal” kid. She said, “I appreciate having something like b-Calm to offer to students and parents to help students adapt and be independent.”

In addition to the field trials, faculty and graduate students in the education department at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) are conducting formal research studies on the product. In an initial study completed over a four-week period in the fall of 2009, a team of two special education graduate students tested two prekindergarten students, both of whom had been identified by teachers as struggling to focus and as being easily distracted, in a segregated special education classroom. Baseline measures showed the students maintained engagement in pre-literacy and fine motor activities 20 to 40 percent of the time. With the use of the b-Calm, the students’ engagement increased to 50 to 75 percent. A neurotypical preschool student is expected to be engaged 75 percent of the time.

Researchers at UNI are planning further studies. A study of b-Calm’s efficacy in helping individuals with sensory challenges to find relief from noise-induced stress in life situations outside of educational settings -- at home, in restaurants, and at other community events -- will begin in the near future.

Want to test b-Calm with an ADD/ADHD or autistic student? b-Calm provided a unit to the Assistive Technology Lending Library in nearly every state in the U.S., so teachers who are interested in testing the device should contact that entity in their state.

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