Learning to Pay Attention: NASA Technology May Offer a Solution to ADHD
Jul 01, 2012 08:37PM
● By Lee Walker
For more than 15 years, Mark Friedman, founder of Sharp Brain, in Fort Myers, thought about how he could apply his expertise and experience in educational technology to developing software programs that would help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) behavioral problems. Although Friedman’s work as a counselor to teenage boys sparked the idea in 1996, it was his son’s attention issues that set it in motion.
Unfortunately, 10 years elapsed before Friedman could dedicate time to his dream. In the meantime, his software development talents helped Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) create the educational technology for its distance learning courses. After leaving FGCU, Friedman co-founded Learning Soft, an educational software and game development company. Unfortunately, it suffered from the collapse of the Internet bubble, but Friedman discovered an upside: He now had room in his life to begin research and development of his own project, a learning system and behavior-shaping program based on neurofeedback technology.
“By that time, the neurofeedback technology had gone from cumbersome to more approachable and user-friendly,” Friedman recalls. “It was also no longer considered New Age ‘woo-woo’, because research had substantiated its effectiveness in training the brain to self-regulate through operant conditioning training.”
The studies helped researchers understand that if beta brain waves—which typically occur during waking, productive states, when the brain is working on goal-oriented tasks—become overactive, they can cause an individual to experience anxiety. When those brain waves slow down, anxiety decreases or ceases to exist. Similarly, if alpha waves, normally prominent in the posterior of the brain and characteristic of wakeful rest, are found in or near the frontal lobe during a waking state, the individual is probably experiencing inattention, difficulty concentrating or even depression.
“When we speed up brainwaves in that area, an individual will have more clarity and ability to attend,” explains Friedman, whose SharpBrain system offers NASA-patented neurofeedback technology that interfaces with a Sony PlayStation and off-the-shelf video games like Gran Turismo and Spyro the Dragon to train brain waves with an immersive video game experience. Learners control the gaming action through mastering their own brain activity. The NASA technology measures the player’s attention and sends a signal to the PlayStation, affecting game play. This increases the player’s skills and motivation to stay more attentive. “The system makes learning essential attention skills fun and easy for kids, while exercising areas of the brain associated with ADHD,” advises Friedman.
Scientific research has demonstrated that the brain has a lifelong ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections (neuroplasticity), which allows the brain’s neurons (nerve cells) to compensate for injury or disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or changes in their environment. Combining neurofeedback technology and interactive exercises to aid the brain’s neuroplasticity can help children or adults improve memory, learn to finish tasks and visually track and filter out distractions.
“This is very beneficial for students, because they develop the skills necessary to be successful in the classroom and at work and home,” notes Friedman, who adds that when behavioral coaching is added to the experience, children can learn to transfer these skills into other settings.
For more information on SharpBrain, call 239-839-1783 or visit Sharp-Brain.com.