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A big part of Neil Peterson's legacy lies within The Edge Foundation. This program was developed to help school children with learning disabilites - such as ADD and ADHD - to succeed in the classrom and life. Learn more about The Edge Foundation from this informative clip that was edited from the Tulatip Tribes Raising Hands video program.



Visit The Edge Foundation on their website at www.edgefoundation.org


For millions of Americans, July 26,1990 was a landmark moment. When President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, it was a momentous step forward for civil rights – and one that has had profound effects on those citizens living with physical and mental disabilities. In the past 19 years, there has been a marked increase in social awareness and acceptance, but does the act achieve its aims today?

Clinton/Obama Mark Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

As written, the Act prohibits discrimination based on a disability – whether that impairment is physical or mental – that limits a major life activity. Reminiscent of earlier civil rights acts which offered legal protection for women and minorities, it required employers and government entities to provide them the rights that they had not been constitutionally given. And by signing it into law, President Bush publicly and politically proclaimed that disabled citizens deserve equal treatment – and that further measures would need to be undertaken to ensure that their rights were not trumped by fiscal concerns and small-mindedness.

In spite of great public support, the Act drew severe criticism prior to its enactment, as many feared it would open a flood gate of false claims that could potentially overwhelm or bankrupt the system – an argument that 19 years later has proven to be completely without basis. Touching on issues of accessibility, health care, education and employment, the Act was broad in its language – a necessity considering the wide range of citizens it was written to protect. Despite several later amendments, this broad language has opened a door for legal challenges, especially regarding the rights of those with learning disabilities.

While the original act does include those with mental disabilities, it has remained a topic of strong debate regarding the inclusion – or lack thereof – of learning disorders. Increased funding for the medical study of learning disorders – including ADHD, ADD, and dyslexia – and the resulting scientific evidence, has lent credence to a group of people who have struggled against the social misconceptions of these and associated disorders – namely the troubling popular myth that they are merely the result of poor parenting and an overloaded educational system.

Recognizing that the language was insufficient, legislators passed two additional acts – as amendments to the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975, both meant to address the failings of the educational system to properly support the needs of these students. Section 504 prohibits any federally-funded program from discriminating against children with disabilities while IDEA ensures that eligible students receive special education if needed, as well as any related services – such as tutoring or the opportunity to attend private school at no cost to the family if the public system cannot meet those needs.

For parents of an ADHD (or spectrum disorder) -diagnosed child, these amendments are a positive step, if not a perfect one. Many school districts, while well-intentioned, do not have the funding or the necessary training to support these students. By signing the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Bush voiced a support unseen by previous generations, one with a legacy that has withstood (much) criticism for the past 19 years. As our society’s awareness – and one would hope, compassion – grows, we can expect to see further amendments in the future – progression that will ensure that every citizen enjoys the same freedoms and the same opportunities as the next.

Recently, many states have begun passing laws about not texting and driving at the same.  The rise in traffic fatalities due to the distraction caused by attempting to text and drive at the same time has been cited as the rationale.  Scientific evidence is growing to support the notion that whatever we might think otherwise, human beings are really not that good at multitasking.

New studies by Etienne Koechlin, director of the cognitive neuroscience laboratory at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm) in Paris demonstrates that the human brain can keep track of two task more or less simultaneously, if there are sufficient rewards associated with each task.  His research shows that the area of the brain that was highly active in the observed multitasking behavior, the frontopolar cortex (which organizes pending goals while the brain completes another task), is well developed in humans.  However, the work also shows that while the human brain can track two tasks at once, it generally cannot handle more than two tasks, and the actual performance of each task isn’t necessarily efficient.

Many wired aficionados take great pride in their ability to multitask in an effort to stay ahead of increasingly hectic schedules and heavy workloads.  But, as ComputerWorld blogger Jim Taylor notes, neuroscience has discovered a catch to all this simultaneous activity.  In order to effectively do two tasks at the same time:

  • At least one of the tasks is so well learned as to be automatic, meaning virtually no focus or thought is necessary to engage in the task
  • The tasks involve different types of brain processing

Research findings by the American Psychological Association have demonstrated that when you shift focus from one task to another, that transition is neither fast nor smooth. There is a lag time during which your brain must free itself from the initial task and then fix onto the new task. This shift, though it feels instantaneous, takes time. In fact, up to 40 percent more time than single tasking – especially for complex tasks.  So there is a large efficiency penalty incurred by multitasking.

Multitasking: Fact Or Fallacy
A humorous look at multitasking

All these new discoveries aren’t likely to make us give us iPhones and other engines of multitasking anytime soon.  But we may to consider that serial tasking – being present in the current task at hand – may make us more productive as well as less stressed.

On the surface, it appears to be a premise straight out of a science fiction film – using the mind to control a virtual reality without the use of a joystick or mouse. But in a growing number of classrooms, this strange concept is taking hold in an extraordinarily promising field – the use of technology to address the myriad learning difficulties associated with ADHD. Until now, most medical research regarding the controversial neurological disorder has focused mainly on the cause – with very little attention paid to positively altering the effects. Today, through the dedication of an impassioned teacher, children and adults with ADHD have the assistance of a new tool to cope with the symptoms of the disorder – a tool that is teaching them to control their mind, one game at a time.

Developed by educator Peter Freer in 1996, the Play Attention system has already been tested in hundreds of US school systems, private homes, learning centers and hospitals. Inspired by the technology used by NASA to train their astronauts for the rigors of space, Freer developed Play Attention to specifically address the challenges inherent with ADHD – namely inability to focus, lack of impulse control, and hyperactivity – and promises improved behavior results in as little as 30 days. But how does it work?

Play Attention

The program itself is very simple. There are two components – the software ‘gaming’ program, and a lightweight helmet (similar to a bicycle helmet) that is worn during play. The helmet is fitted with sensors that track brain activity while the user is engaged, thus affecting the action in the game. If the user loses focus, the gaming activity stops. By measuring the EEG waves corresponding to attention, the program can track when a user is focusing on the task at hand, and when they’ve broken their concentration. The goal is to train the user to control their focus – a shared difficulty among those on the learning disorder spectrum. And following successful trials, the program appears to have a positive effect on a wider range of other neurological disorders and may eventually be used to assist those with severe mental and physical disabilities who are unable to use a traditional computer.

Freer credits the program’s success to neuroplasticity, the lifelong ability of the brain to constantly learn and adapt. Unlike neurofeedback programs, which aim to ‘normalize’ the ‘abnormal’ waves of the ADHD mind, Play Attention’s program is designed to teach the essential skills necessary to improving behavior for long-term results. It provides an arena in which the user can learn how to pay attention – which Freer believes has a positive, lasting impact on the daily, real-life behaviors of the user.

In addition to producing quantifiable results in those with ADHD – children and adults alike – the program also shows potential in other fields. Modified versions have been used by elite athletes to enhance their abilities under pressure, and others still have utilized it for mild memory and concentration problems. It all may sound like science fiction – but Play Attention’s real-world results are garnering attention far beyond the screen.