The difference between brain training and remedial programs in addressing underlying learning difficulties

Did you know that no matter your age, your brain is constantly growing and changing? The brain’s ability to adapt and make new connections is called brain plasticity. The brain is pliable, like plastic. Young children are learning new skills all the time so their brains change a lot from day to day, but even an adult brain can morph to acquire a new skill set.

Brain training programs can help rewire the neural pathways of the brain for children with weak language skills, auditory processing problems, difficulties with reading and spelling, ADHD, poor memory, and a number of other learning problems. Remedial programs also target the root cause of a student’s learning difficulties, but in a different way. Remedial instruction targets the foundational skills your child must master in order to acquire more advanced concepts in, for example, reading, writing, and math.

Even if a learning gap is not the result of a disability, more specialized support can help students catch up to their peers and eliminate the need for special education. Our remedial programs aim to eliminate the gap between what a child knows and what they are expected to know. With specialized individual attention, they can build their skills and confidence so that they are able to reach their true potential.

If a student is not making much progress with a remedial program, this is often the sign of a learning disability. In this case, a more specialized approach would be needed, such as a brain training program. In some cases, a psychoeducational assessment is recommended to determine the root cause(s) of a student’s academic or behavioral issues. This assessment will provide you with a clearer understanding of your child’s strengths and weaknesses, a plan of action for improving academic performance, and the possibility for accommodations at school.

The following questions were posed to the experts at the Strategic Learning Clinic:

Will brain training help my struggling child?
A parent’s instinct about his child’s struggles in school is rarely wrong. Here are some tell-tale signs that science-based brain training programs may be appropriate to address the underlying causes of difficulties in school, such as:

  • Attention (sustained, alternating, divided, selective, and auditory)
  • Executive functioning
  • Cognitive efficiency
  • Language Processing- phonological awareness and memory
  • Auditory working memory
  • Dyslexia (difficulty in learning how to read)
  • Slow reading rate related to difficulties with visual tracking
  • Visual-spatial skills
  • Oral expression

I’ve heard that brain training can be intense…
Each program has its own protocol of intensity and frequency. Since the re-wiring of neural pathways in the brain is not immediate, parents must understand that some of these programs may require more time in order to have the maximum effect. In cases where the recommended protocol is not suitable to the family, an alternative schedule can be made on an individual basis.

Is brain training the answer to every problem?
In one way or another, every child would benefit from brain training programs to improve their skill set and academic proficiency. Comprehensive testing of the student is done prior to implementing any brain training programs. If difficulties, as represented by the test scores, show a need for additional support that goes beyond remediation or tutoring, brain training programs would be recommended. If the testing, however, reveals specific difficulties that can be managed with remedial 1-on-1 teaching, brain training programs would not be recommended as a first-step solution. In that case, we are going to teach those foundational skills the child needs to bring them up to grade level in order to better cope in the classroom.

What’s the success rate for brain training programs in the short and long term?
Every student participating in a program will experience an improvement. To what degree? That is the unknown answer. Each and every student has different learning needs and the required approach must be tailored. No program is a “magic pill” that will eliminate the problem. When implemented and followed correctly, the programs will have a positive effect. This is where patience and hard work come into play. Some programs are more intensive than others, but students have to follow through from beginning to end or else progress may be limited. If the programs are done properly, the re-wiring of the brain is permanent. Occasionally, a student may require a “booster” program down the line to maximize his potential, but no gains are ever lost as a result of doing a brain training program if implemented properly.

What’s the most important message to give to the parents of a child starting out on brain training?
Parents should understand that brain training is a process, and that the process is in place because it has been proven effective over a long period of time. Trust the process. Many children have benefited from these science-based programs and your child can benefit too, under the right conditions. Also, hang in there! It may be a long ride, but it is worth it in the end.