LearningRx: Brain Training with a Personal Touch

Many programs claim to offer brain training, but LearningRx does it with a unique “personal trainer” approach that, the company says, boosts IQ.
Gadgets & Apps | posted by Devon Frye

The concept of “brain training” has been around since the ‘80s. Many adults have used it, looking to give aging minds a regenerative boost. In recent years, however, it’s come into the spotlight as an alternative treatment for ADHD, with programs like Interactive Metronome and Cogmed talking about boosting attention, concentration, and decreasing hyperactive or impulsive behavior.

LearningRx — a nationwide brain-training network with 78 locations — doesn’t claim to affect ADHD’s core symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity. In addition to boosting attention and other cognitive skills that are often weak in ADHDers, LearningRx says their program raises IQ — on average, they say, by 15 points.

Founder Ken Gibson started as a pediatric optometrist, and saw firsthand the impact of visual processing on his patients’ ability to learn. Before starting LearningRx, he opened up several multidisciplinary learning centers to help children develop and strengthen visual processing skills. Almost immediately, he saw that the children were improving more quickly than before, but he wasn’t satisfied. He decided to move from a 3-to-1 student-to-trainer ratio to a 1-to-1 program.

The results of the individualized training were dramatic: Over 10 weeks, the children saw an average of three years’ worth of improvement in their visual processing skills. Dr. Gibson decided to expand his program beyond visual processing, to address all seven categories of cognitive skills that researchers agree can be measured and improved: processing speed, visual and auditory processing, working memory (or short-term memory), long-term memory, logic and reasoning, and attention. In 2003, Dr. Gibson founded LearningRx.

Every LearningRx procedure targets at least one of these cognitive skills. To address auditory processing, for example, students are asked to repeat words with certain sounds dropped. To work on processing speed, children may study a list of numbers, looking for any two in a row that add up to 9.

“The procedures themselves are sort of game-like,” says Dr. Gibson, and vary according to the child’s specific needs. Most are face-to-face with a trainer, but some are computer-based — and they all target attention. Attention “is never by itself — it’s always connected to something,” Dr. Gibson says. To succeed at any of the exercises, the child needs to practice and develop attentional skills.

LearningRx hasn’t collected long-term statistical data on their programs’ effectiveness for children with ADHD, but they do take brief surveys after children complete the program. These surveys, Dr. Gibson said, show that 37 percent of children with ADHD either reduced their dosage of ADHD medication or eliminated it entirely after completing the program.

Gibson has more than data and testimonials to back up his program — he’s used it himself. After a fall a few years ago that sent him to the hospital, he was unconscious for several days. When he woke up, his ability to focus was dramatically diminished. “I could work for maybe three to five minutes at a time,” he said. “Then I would forget what I had done and would have to start over.” Concerned about his progress, his daughters insisted he enroll in his own program. He went through it twice.

The most powerful outcome of his experience is the empathy it’s given him for his patients, he says. “I could see what it was like to lack certain skills, and I could understand the frustration of having to read something over and over without taking it in.” Now, he estimates he’s about “90 percent back” to his focus levels before the accident.

The main draw of LearningRx over similar programs is the “personal trainer” aspect developed by Dr. Gibson. Children work with the same trainer throughout the program, which ranges from 12 to 24 weeks. The reasons behind the one-on-one training are twofold, he says. For one, trainers can modify a program more effectively than a computer can. “What the child needs may not be in a computer program,” he says. Computers are programmed to do what they’re told, and may not respond to idiosyncrasies in a child’s cognitive skills and personal history.

The key factor of the trainer-student relationship is motivation, Dr. Gibson says. “A trainer is more motivating than a computer program.” If children get frustrated, which often happens in the first few weeks, trainers can talk them through it and encourage them to try again. “It really changes their attitude,” he says. “If a child thinks he can’t do something, and then he achieves it, it has a big change on his outlook — he thinks he can conquer the world now.”

 
 
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