Teens With ADHD Focus on Smart Strategies

UT Dallas Researchers Develop Brain Training Program to Improve Learning

July 22, 2008

Most teens prepare for summer camp by packing bug spray and trail mix. The 30 enrolled in the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth’s SMART Camp prepared by getting electroencephalograms (EEG).

The pre-camp EEG tests required students to perform strategic tasks and process high-level concepts while electrode caps recorded their brain activity.

The Strategic Memory and Reasoning Training (SMART) Camp is designed for teens with Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  The camp is part of an innovative brain training research program designed by scientists at the Center for BrainHealth.

Strategic learning involves high-level verbal reasoning in which large numbers of factual details are collapsed into abstract meaning or central concepts.  The BrainHealth research team has linked use of these strategies to increases in depth of learning and resilience to memory loss.

Preliminary studies show significant improvement in strategic learning is possible for children with ADHD.  Although UT Dallas researchers continue to explore the issue, the students participating in the SMART program have been very pleased with the results.

“At first I was skeptical, but now I think it’s amounting to a lot,” said participant Alyssa Holubec.  “Before, if you asked me to give you a summary, I’d give you way too much information.  Now I can give a clean, concise summary that still has everything it needs.”  Using a technique she learned in SMART camp, she then paraphrases, “I used to have bone, meat and a ton of extra fat.  Now I just have bone and meat.”

Strategic learning develops rapidly during early adolescence as the brain’s frontal lobes continue to mature.  Although teens with ADHD have normal intelligence, new research at the Center for BrainHealth has found they have widespread strategic learning deficits.

The goal of the SMART Camp is to determine whether proper and timely training can take advantage of the teen brain’s critical stage of cognitive development, strengthen strategic learning skills and prevent life-long learning deficits in children with ADHD.

At the start of the two-week camp, the students receive tips and strategies that teach them to use their brains more efficiently.  Campers are asked to employ these techniques in a variety of activities.

When the camp concludes, another round of EEG tests will record changes.  Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino, who is heading this program, explains that with the EEGs, researchers are “looking for biomarkers of learning processes in ADHD, and the changes in brain waves after the intensive SMART program may be an indicator of more efficient brain activity.”

Holubec thinks the strategies she’s learned in SMART Camp will be a big help in her sophomore year of high school next year.  Dr. Gamino expects these skills to help Holubec and the other students well beyond high school, “This program is not just for school work, it’s for life,” she said.

The summer SMART Camp program, at the Center for BrainHealth in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, is funded by the Sparrow Foundation. 


Media contact: Audrey Glickert, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4320, audrey.glickert@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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The goal of Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino’s SMART program is to determine whether proper training can take advantage of the teen brain's critical stage of cognitive development to strengthen strategic learning skills.

SMART Camp participants learn techniques to use their brains more efficiently and are asked to employ them in a variety of activities.

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