T.R.A.I.N – ing The Human Brain

Depending on the type of training and the level of maturation of the child, Neuroplasticity training may influence developmental trajectories in different ways and the complexity in interpreting training effects in children is a valid question that parents may ask. However as much as the immature brain structure might set limits on how much can be achieved with Neuroplasticity training, the fact remains that the immaturity of a child’s brain can also have advantages, in terms of flexibility for learning.

The highly plastic nature of the human brain and the speed with which it can adapt to a new stimulus is amazing. An often-quoted example is the research carried out on the taxi drivers of London who have to learn the routes, names and locations of virtually every location assessable by a taxi in the city of London. Neuroimaging has shown beyond doubt that the grey matter in the hippocampus, a region important for memory has evolved and has been modulated for these drivers. In fact it has been observed that hippocampal grey matter volume corresponds to the number of years of experience of the individual - with seasoned drivers exhibiting large increases in the grey matter volumes in their brain, which has come about due to extensive learning on a daily basis.

Similarly children who undergo scientifically developed cognitive enhancement intervention with a special emphasis on training with working memory tasks have shown altered brain activation in limbic and or frontoparietal regions. One of the main aim and thrusts of the T.R.A.I.N™ programme developed and implemented by the Dyslexia Association of IndiaTM is based on this platform besides other focus areas, which will be shared below.

Childhood is a very special period and there is great potential for tailoring optimal learning solutions for children, which are very child specific once we know the exact area of cognitive deficit and the extent of the deficit that the child is displaying.

Childhood is a time, when there are great changes in neural efficiency during the development of the brain and this makes the developmental period well suited for targeted training and intervention. The structural brain development and cognitive functioning of these years can pose certain limitations, but these hurdles can be overcome with consistency, regularity and an adequate time frame during which intervention is allowed to make a difference in the domain of cognitive control and working memory. The aim is to create domain specific deliverables for each child so that changes in the frontoparietal brain regions that accompany intervention demonstrate long lasting improved performance.

The Dyslexia Association of India ™ - T.R.A.I.NTM programme uses individualized cognitive training based on application and theory as an integrated process for improving cognitive functioning by means of intentional instruction that is domain specific to the human brain. This innovative approach integrates the process – based and strategy – based paradigm whereby both aspects of the brain’s executive function and working memory training result in explicit outcomes - based on internal implicit neural changes dependent on the plasticity of the brain.

The final outcome is that over time, attention, inhibition, task switching, chunking, mental imagery, story formation are improved, leading to higher levels of metacognitive ability in the particular child.

Depending on the goal that we have in mind, the T.R.A.I.NTM programme provides a complete ring fenced strategy where the length of the training, the complexity of the task that is trained – which means does the task train one specific cognitive function or several different processes at once – the variability in stimuli and tasks – both between and within cognitive domains – and the difficulty level of the task, is adapted to the individual child’s level of performance. The programme does however err on the side of the complex intervention paradigm, as we have found that cognitive improvement benefits most from complex and intensive intervention. This is so because, changing stimuli and adapting the difficulty level of the task to more complex, are noticeably crucial to keep children motivated and prevent automaticity as we want children to be able to show larger transfer effects and gains.

The T.R.A.I.NTM programme measures performance throughout the intervention period and is able to estimate a learning curve, which indicates how the learning rate is changing. Rather than have a steep curve at the beginning of the intervention, which would indicate immediate gains and then a plateau, the programme witnesses a gradual gradient with a low slope curve giving rise to a steeper gradient after about 24 weeks of regular intervention. This is indicative of increasing metacognition based on the implementation of newer strategies in a graded and methodical manner. The average curve of the group will always vary between individuals as there is a large variability noticed in the learning rate, and also in individual aspects of general conceptual ability along with aspects of any learning and developmental disorders.

The T.R.A.I.NTM programme is able to overcome the inconsistency of transfer effects and achieve a reasonable measure of what the variables are which cause the transfer effects. Thus issues like transfer of intervention effects to non-remediated tasks and real life situations or near transfer of intervention tasks to tasks within the same domain are noticeable. As an example, if a child has a specific neuroplasticty programme to improve his working memory, the intervention may lead to a general increase in processing efficiency, which is an increase in working memory capacity, and or a strategy change, or a task specific skill, which may be represented by a familiarity with the memory items.

The programme believes that the regions of the brain should be viewed in relation to the functional networks in which they are involved. Thus the specialization of a particular brain region is a consequence of its interaction and competition with other brain regions over the course of development. The role of experience and exposure of the child’s brain to cognitive activities is considered in this account, as is the fact that the general rules of structural development of each individual child’s brain might be genetically programmed, but specific details that we are seeing, which are causing the deficits are the result of activity dependent processes influenced by the macro environment represented by the academic and the school system and quality of academic instructional input that the child is exposed to.

In the initial decade of a child’s growth, his/her brain undergoes changes, which are still a subject of intensive study. We see a series of progressive and regressive events, which are represented by synaptic strengthening, increased myelination, and at the same time pruning of synaptic connections in the brain. Rather than adopt a universal policy of collective remediation as is usually done, the Dyslexia Association of IndiaTM appreciates the genetic variances of each child and implements its T.R.A.I.NTM programme to influence the neural architecture for the child so that it pushes for the construction of neural networks leading to both quantitative and qualitative neuroplasticity based changes dependent on the variable effects of the intervention planned.

We know that an immature brain structure can set boundaries on how much can be realistically achieved and that pushing a child without understanding the limits can constrain practice related gains on various cognitive tasks. These limits are imposed not on purpose, but are determined by the age of a child, the degree of myelination and the pattern of synaptic connectivity. Along with this intervention gains can be limited by the stage of cognitive development, where a particular child cannot be made to learn a skill set if the skill set is being built upon more primitive processes, which are not yet mature.

The T.R.A.I.NTM programme in this case ensures that pyramidically, specialization and integration in brain networks forms a base for optimization of performance and learning. It then takes advantage of the sensitive periods of neuronal growth and synaptic generation to induce learnt abilities.

Beside the above, the programme also creates metacognition about production deficiency observed in children and inculcates strategies to improve cognitive performance by being aware of them. This in turn can induce plastic changes within the frontoparietal networks of the brain that are involved in cognition and intelligence.

The changes brought about by this programme are not just speeded up development, but experience – expectant neural modifications. Experience – expectant modifications involve neural processes that occur within particular phases of a child’s development and are dependent upon the environmental input, which initially is the academic system and the efficacy of its instructional planning and execution. The T.R.A.I.N™ programme improves and builds upon this experience-expectant development and utilizes its own specific individualized neuroplasticity based intervention to bring about development and learning opportunities for the child.

Subsequently, the programme uses experience – dependent mechanisms that are driven by inputs, which are specific to the child and involve neural processes that are available on a continuing basis and include the formation of new synapses and changes in the efficiency of synaptic contacts to remediate the learning based developmental disorders.

It is now understood that when children learn to employ a new strategy where they have to push their cognitive limits, a change in spatial pattern of functional activation occurs in the brain. The constant use of these new strategies as implemented by the T.R.A.I.NTM programme can lead to increased activation in the frontoparietal control regions, even when these strategies lessen task demands.

For example when we teach children to chunk information, we are effectively decreasing task difficulty, but cognitively we are activating the frontoparietal regions of the brain. Similarly the same children are increasing the pattern of synaptic activation in their occipitoparietal cortex when they are given intervention, which is specific to semantics and visuospatial strategies for encoding which is specific to our programme.

Technology is allowing us to substantiate findings where in addition to changes in the level of synaptic activity that we see within regions, intervention-using neuroplasticity is also causing changes in the interaction between regions.

Targeted Neuroplasticity causes intervention related changes of functional connectivity even in the resting state for children who go through the entire programme.

While it is acknowledged that training of a particular brain function, requires a certain stage of cognitive and or structural brain development, the positive outcomes for Neuroplasticity based intervention programmes like T.R.A.I.NTMprovide ample evidence that developmental changes have been known to speed up and that neuronal activation in the particular child is more similar to that of an older child or even an adult. The mature pattern of frontoparietal brain activation after undergoing the task practice of the programme may be indicative of more congruent synaptic activity where patterns of neural activity have formed in response to recognition of stimuli.

Children with Learning Disabilities / Disorders and developmental disabilities like ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia / Mathematics Based Disabilities, Dyslexia - have benefited from cognitive Neuroplasticity based training of the T.R.A.I.NTM programme which has changed the task performance and brain activation patterns of these children. The T.R.A.I.NTM programme is not a simple Special Education programme. This programme considers the positives and negatives of each individual child and then works to prepare a specialized intervention for the child.

In fact based on plasticity research it is seen that neural activation changes can be observed in children with language disorders, including Reading Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Specific Language Impairment – to list a few. Neural mechanisms related to Auditory Attention have also been known to show a marked improvement in some children who underwent the Neuroplasticity programme to improve standardized measures of Receptive Language deficits.

The T.R.A.I.N programme will show different results for different children. While the trajectory of improvement for some may be quicker than the rest, we have to keep in mind the individual differences in brain structure, which do to some extent predict performance improvements. Children with higher general conceptual ability have been known to show a prolonged phase of structural brain maturation compared with lesser performing peers.

While the programme acknowledges this, crucially it also emphasizes that inter and intra individual differences in intervention outcome also depends on the correctness of identification and the inherent plasticity of the brain which enables it to learn from training, the rate of training and the maximum level of cognitive functioning that the child is willing to push it to in the short term. The long-term benefit of this effort is a synaptic enhancement in the brain of the child that results from increased pre-synaptic action potentials and which leads to specific synaptic strengthening. This neural facilitation, synaptic augmentation or post tetanic potentiaion has long lasting benefits for the particular child with visible outcomes in the academic and behavioural arena.

To know more about the T.R.A.I.NTM programme, please e mail The Dyslexia Association of IndiaTM at info@dyslexiaindia.org.in or you can even call us on 88260 – 22886 to speak to us freely and set up an appointment to meet us.

The T.R.A.I.NTM Neuroplasticity Programme is a copyright programme of the Dyslexia Association of IndiaTM and protected by the relevant provisions of the Copyright Act. Please do not use information gained from this programme to misrepresent any instructional course or programme being delivered by a third party vendor. The T.R.A.I.NTM programme is available only at the DAITM Intervention Centre and it has not been franchised out to any vendor.