Category: Brain Training

Born That Way? Why a Link Between Genetics and Math Struggles is Mostly a Myth


If you or your spouse struggled with math when you were in school, it might be tempting to chalk up your child’s dyscalculia (the technical term, which simply means “trouble with numbers”) to genetics. But the truth is, there’s no such thing as someone being born bad at math, and it’s certainly not a pre-determined destiny. But for most people, math struggles are caused by these two specific things.

In her book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, Time magazine journalist Amanda Ripley writes about Americans’ lackadaisical attitudes toward math, despite its thread being woven into practically every profession. From measuring floor covering to making change for customers, understanding math is crucial, and yet we sometimes downplay its importance. As she explains, part of the problem is that in the United States, many believe that math is an innate ability, like being double-jointed.

“There’s no such thing as someone being born bad at math, and it’s certainly not a pre-determined destiny,” says Tanya Mitchell, co-author of Unlock the Einstein Inside; Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart In Your Child ( “We do our kids a huge disservice by steering them away from the challenges of math to alleviate their fears. Instead, we should be eradicating those fears by targeting the fundamental building blocks to learning math: cognitive skills.”

According to Mitchell, although genetics can play a role, most people with dyscalculia have poor visual processing and memory skills. For example, weak visual processing skills might cause someone to transpose numbers (68 becomes 86). When working memory is weak, someone doing mental math (say, 23 +28) might forget that they “carried the one,” leading them to answer 41 instead of 51. She says most blocks to excelling in math aren’t about information, but are linked to the skills the brain uses to learn, process, understand, remember and apply that information.

Math in the United States

Ripley writes that part of the issue is that compared to other educationally successful countries, the United States places too much emphasis on sports rather than academics. It’s not uncommon to see children, teens and parents at sports practices and games or athletic competitions for hours after school, leaving them rushed to complete the bare minimum of homework before bed. And it’s certainly not that these kids and teens are unmotivated; in most cases, when it comes to immersing oneself in studying and homework, it’s just about lack of time and energy.

The United States is far from the top when it comes to math education. In fact, Ripley points out in her book that American students scored 26th on a test of critical thinking in math, below average for developed countries. And it has nothing to do with parental involvement. Ripley found that American parents tend to be more involved in school than parents in the other “education superpowers.” The problem is, their involvement has little to do with learning and more to do with fundraising, serving on teacher-appreciation committees and attending PTO/PTA. And while those things are all wonderful, research shows a parent’s involvement in their child’s education is more about quality than quantity. And quality involvement starts at home, like working with your kids to help them excel in math.

So why do Americans put so little focus on math?

Ripley explains that it’s in part due to the fact that many American adults don’t like math either. A surprising percentage doesn’t believe it’s critical to success later in life. In one 2009 survey, most of the American parents said it was more important to finish high school with strong reading and writing skills than with strong math and science skills.

How To Help Your Child

For parents who want to know more specifics about how to help their child excel in math, here are some starting points.

First, stop allowing accommodations in the classroom. You’re not doing your child any favors to prepare for life as an adult by giving them special treatment.

Second, be willing to invest more in outside education. This could mean hiring a tutor if your child falls behind due to frequent family moves, purchasing SAT prep materials, or paying for your high school student to spend his summer studying abroad or attending a pre-college program.

Third, be as involved with math as you are with sports, music lessons and school fundraisers—if not more so. Talk to your child or teen about math, find out where they struggle and rule out other possible issues (like vision or hearing problems, bullying, test anxiety, etc.). Some school districts now offer refresher math courses for parents so they can better help their children.

Finally, have your student’s cognitive skills tested. The root causes of most learning struggles of ANY type are weak cognitive skills. With ADHD, it’s attention. With dyslexia, it’s phonemic awareness. With math, it’s usually memory and visual processing, among others. Once you know what you’re dealing with you can take measures to target those skills at home and with one-on-one brain training.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that math doesn’t matter. It’s no coincidence that the countries that understand the importance of math are those whose students excel in the subject. You may not have the power to change the country, but you can start by placing value, time and energy on math at home.

What the Heck Is Auditory Processing Disorder?

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Find out what Auditory Processing Disorder is, and the signs of it.

Don’t be fooled by the word “auditory.” APD isn’t a hearing problem; it’s about how well the brain is processing the sounds that the ear receives. Find out the signs, assessments, and options for children, teens, and adults with APD.

 Signs of Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory Processing Disorder can easily be misdiagnosed because the resulting struggles may be attributed to other causes. For example, a child who is struggling to understand verbal directions in class may struggle with grades, appear to be goofing off, act out in frustration, withdraw from interaction, or experience low self-esteem from the feeling that everyone else in the class “gets it” better than he or she does. At first glance, a teacher or parent might assume that this child is unmotivated, has ADHD, has behavior issues, is introverted, etc.

Children and adults with an auditory processing disorder can also struggle with communication: confusing words with similar sounds, or mispronouncing words altogether. They can also appear weak in social skills: showing a lack of confidence, not grasping verbal directions, not being able to hear and respond appropriately to content of conversations, etc. A child or adult with APD may especially struggle when in a noisy environment, or appear to have poor hearing because they frequently ask for things to be repeated or clarified.

As mentioned, some of these behaviors can also be exhibited, for example, by people with attention deficits who don’t grasp what they are hearing the first time around because they are distracted. Because of this, diagnosing APD cannot be done by looking at a list of symptoms. It must be done by an audiologist who administers a series of assessments in a sound-treated room.

Options for people with Auditory Processing Disorder

If someone is diagnosed with APD, there are three main courses of action. The first is making accommodations in the environment, for example, creating a quieter place to work or study. The second course of action involves developing other resources to compensate for the auditory processing deficit. This might include strengthening other skills, like attention, or learning active-listening techniques.

The third course of action involves taking efforts to strengthen the weak auditory processing skills themselves.

LearningRx, a brain training company, does not diagnose or treat any medical conditions, including APD. What they provide are mental workouts that strengthen cognitive skills, including auditory processing skills.

In fact, the company’s unique approach—which puts every client with his or her personal brain trainer for fun, intense mental workouts—has shown dramatic results for past clients with auditory processing weaknesses.

LearningRx measures the cognitive skills of all incoming clients, and has found that it is common to find low auditory processing skills among clients with diagnoses. The good news is that auditory processing is also the skill in which, among this group, we see the largest gains after the completion of a LearningRx brain training program.

The following chart shows the average improvements of more than 12,000 children and adults who came to LearningRx with some kind of diagnosis, including ADHD, dyslexia, TBI, and more. You can see that, after brain training, auditory processing improved by an average of 14 standard points among clients with ADHD, memory loss, dyslexia, and autism. (Standard points, by the way, rank where a person is performing in relation to their peers, and are measured on a 100-point scale from 50 to 150, with 100 considered “average.”)

Auditory processing improved by even more—an average of 15 standard points—for people with learning disabilities, TBI, and speech and language issues. 

Start with a comprehensive Cognitive Skills Assessment

LearningRx offers a comprehensive Cognitive Skills Assessment that identifies weaknesses in the following cognitive skills: attention, long-term memory, short-term memory, auditory processing, visual processing, logic & reasoning, and processing speed. The assessment is not administered for the purpose of diagnosis, but for pinpointing cognitive weaknesses that can be targeted and strengthened through brain training. It’s a good place to start because, as mentioned, the symptoms of weak auditory processing skills may be shared by other conditions.

Typically, LearningRx brain training programs consist of about five hours of training a week, for a period of 12 to 32 weeks. Families often find that going through a LearningRx program once produces the results they are seeking, and that ongoing training is not necessary.

To schedule a comprehensive Cognitive Skills Assessment—which is reasonably priced and takes about an hour—contact a LearningRx Center near you.

Forget Fidget Spinners! (Yep! We Said It.)

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Check out our advice on holistic help for attention struggles.

You probably know that fidget spinners were originally designed to help kids with ADHD (specifically, the hyper part). But if you’re looking for other holistic help for your child or teen with attention struggles, read on. 

A growing number of research studies are revealing the impact that many of our choices have on how well we pay attention. Among these choices are what we eat, how we move, and even how we exercise our mental skills.


The impact of diet on ADHD

According to a study published in the international Journal of Attention Disorders, kids who eat a typical “Western” diet are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD by the age of 14. The study looked at the eating patterns of 1,800 adolescents, classifying diets into two categories: “Healthy” or “Western.”

A Western diet, as defined by the study, includes a lot of fast foods; sugary, fried, or processed foods; and high-fat dairy. A “healthy” eating pattern consists of a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish.

The results showed an association between being diagnosed with ADHD, and a diet high in dairy, sugar, fast food, fried foods, and processed foods.

Associate Professor Wendy Oddy, leader of Nutrition Studies at Perth’s Telethon Institute for Child Health Research where the study was conducted, suggests that “a Western dietary pattern may indicate the adolescent has a less optimal fatty acid profile, whereas a diet higher in omega-3 fatty acids is thought to hold benefits for mental health and optimal brain function.”

Other studies support the idea that diets rich in fatty acids can improve ADHD symptoms. For example, a report released by the University of Copenhagen reviewed the scientific literature on diet and ADHD. According to Dr. Kim Fleischer Michaelsen, who is heading the study, research shows that “fatty acids from fatty fish moderate the symptoms” of ADHD. She also said that the review indicated that elimination diets are also promising.

While experts agree that more research is needed on this topic, it makes sense that parents of kids with ADHD should opt for the healthiest dietary choices possible. The Amen Clinic has published a list of the 50 best foods for the brain. You can find the entire list here, but here is a sample:

Bell peppers (yellow, green, red, and orange)
Chicken, skinless
Yams and sweet potatoes
Wild salmon
Almonds, raw
Turkey, skinless

And if you think that healthy cooking is time consuming, consider pulling out your crock pot. Preparing healthy dinners in a slow cooker is a great way to avoid all that cutting and slicing in the kitchen at the end of a long day. Try this recipe:

Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Chili

The impact of physical exercise on attention struggles

“Exercise turns on the attention system,” says John Ratey, M.D., as associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. When he talks about the “attention system,” he explains that he’s talking about the brain’s executive functions, including sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention.

The author of the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. Ratey says that, “On a practical level, [exercise] causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn.”

He goes as far as to tell people to think “of exercise as medication,” adding, “For a very small handful of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD ADD), it may actually be a replacement for stimulants, but for most, it’s complementary—something they should absolutely do, along with taking meds, to help increase attention and improve mood.”

Dr. Ratey specifically mentions taekwondo, ballet, and gymnastics as activities that give the attention system a good workout, although he said that even walking for half an hour, four times a week, will make a difference.

The impact of brain training on attention skills

One-on-one brain training is a form of cognitive training that pairs clients of all ages with their own personal brain trainers for intense mental workouts. A one-on-one brain training program at LearningRx, for example, consists of working face-to-face with a personal brain trainer about five hours a week. Programs typically run for 12 to 32 weeks, depending on the program.

LearningRx is the largest one-on-one brain training company, with 80 centers in the U.S. and an additional 40 global locations. And while LearningRx does not diagnose or treat ADHD, it does strengthen the brain’s foundational cognitive skills, including the skill of attention.

One study measured the attention performance of 5,416 children and adults who came to LearningRx having been diagnosed with ADHD. On average, these clients scored in the 42nd percentile in attention, indicating that their attention skills were below the skills of 58 percent of their peers.

After completing a LearningRx brain training program, the average performance in attention for these clients rose to the 66th percentile. In other words, after brain training, attention performance went from “below average” to “above average.”

If your child is struggling with attention, changes in diet, physical activity, and brain training can make a difference.

To learn more about brain training, contact a LearningRx Brain Training Center near you.

Earth to Space Cadet!

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How ADHD manifests differently in girls

Just because your daughter doesn’t “act out” in school doesn’t mean she doesn’t have attention struggles. While boys’ ADHD symptoms tend to be more “external,” girls’ symptoms tend to be more “internal.” Check out this handy infographic about ADHD:


Speaking of ADHD …

Over a six-year period, 5,416 children and adults (mean age 12.3) diagnosed with ADHD went through LearningRx programs. The cognitive performance of these clients was measured before and after brain training, and the largest gains were seen in IQ, auditory processing, long-term memory, and broad attention. After LearningRx brain training, IQ scores improved by an average of 15 standard points, and broad attention skills improved an average of 24 percentile points. Want more proof that your child’s brain function can improve? Read the full article with 10 scientific resources to give you hope:

Standardized Tests: 4 factors within your control

There are lots of factors that contribute to test performance results. Here are four of the most common, with tips on how to help:

  1. Focus on Nutrition: Children’s brains burn through energy very rapidly and needs consistent fuel. Feed children meals balanced with healthy carbohydrates, protein and fat. Look for ways to incorporate healthy “brain foods” into your family’s diet: beans, olive oil, walnuts, blueberries and omega-3-rich fish like wild salmon, mackerel and tuna.
  2. Manage Anxiety: Whether genetic or situational, extreme worry can cause physical responses in the body that hinder a child from performing well on a test. Teach your child relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or visualization.
  3. Help Your Child Get Enough Sleep: Sleep deprivation is known to decrease attentiveness,  response time, short-term memory, and performance.  Here’s a handy chart to help you determine what time your child should go to bed.
  4. Train Your Child’s Cognitive skills: While knowledge is the information that is acquire—such as math formulas—cognitive skills are the tools the brain needs to learn, understand, and apply to those math formulas. When taking timed tests, one of the most important cognitive skills is processing speed. More than 90% of students who completed the ReadRx program showed improvement on state reading achievement tests. Enroll your child in a one-on-one cognitive skills training program to target the fundamental learning tools needed to excel on all types of timed tests.


About LearningRx
LearningRx, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is the largest one-on-one brain training organization in the world. With 80 Centers in the U.S., and locations in 40 countries around the globe, LearningRx has helped more than 95,000 individuals and families sharpen their cognitive skills to help them think faster, learn easier, and perform better. Their on-site programs partner every client with a personal brain trainer to keep clients engaged, accountable, and on-task—a key advantage over online-only brain exercises. Their pioneering methods have been used in clinical settings for 35 years and have been verified as beneficial in peer-reviewed research papers and journals. To learn more about LearningRx research results, programs, and their 9.6 out of 10 client satisfaction rating visit To read testimonials from real clients visit