2 Cognitive Skills that Make a Difference for ADHD


According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 1994, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental, neurobiological condition that usually presents with severe and pervasive behavioral symptoms of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity.  DSM-IV Criteria state that these behaviors must be present over a period of at least 6 months, before the age of 7 and is present in both home and school.  These behaviors significantly impair your child’s daily functioning.  The APA also lists the following behaviors are seen with your child:  difficulty taking turns, often appears not to be listening when being spoken to, talks excessively and tends to interrupt and intrude on others in the classroom, while playing games and in conversations.  Additional research by Jakobson & Kikas, 2007 proves that cognitive strengths play an important role in managing ADHD.


Cognitive Skills

Cognitive skills are your child’s foundation or platform from which they are able to learn.  For example, think of a car.  The car is only as good as its engine.  Think of a house.  The house is only as good as its foundation and so on.  For your child to remember, attend, recall, comprehend and process well enough to be successful in reading, math, science, social studies, etc. requires that all of your child’s cognitive skills need to be strong.  According to Jakobson & Kikas, 2007, cognitive measures directly assess performance, providing validating criteria for ADHD and information for the correct type of intervention for your child.



Understand that all cognitive skills are used by your child’s brain in order to learn.  We may speak of specific areas of the brain relative to diagnosis but we always use our entire brain in the learning process.  Having said that, the 2 most talked about cognitive skills talked about when speaking of ADHD are working memory and visuo-spatial skills.  Visuo-spatial skills are the highest level of visual processing skills and require the use of your child’s parietal lobes.

Your child’s visuo-spatial skills enable the ability for mental imagery to manipulate between 2D (print) and 3D (objects) in a given space.  Your child needs to be able to see the difference between print on paper as being flat and 2D vs a 3D book, for example, that you hold with both your hands. They also allow your child to navigate through an image in their mind’s eye (helpful for reading comprehension).



Visuo-spatial skills also allow for your child to estimate depth and distance to avoid bumping into objects.  I remember when my daughter’s visual processing was very weak.  She would tell me that she perceived the bricks on her elementary school to be almost ” breathing” in and out.  She had a very hard time navigating the hallways and bus loading areas.



Lastly, visuo-spatial skills also help your child in reproducing drawings that they are shown or to be able to construct objects.  For example, when Shannon inadvertently broke an object in the house that we could easily glue back together, she would not be able to “reconstruct” the object as it existed prior to breakage.


Jakobson & Kikas research did point out that your child may perform a bit better given semantically meaningful tasks vs no meaning.  For example, working with specific dates that relate to something vs just presenting numerals to your child. Everyone learns easier when you can relate the teaching to something already understood.  This provides you with a good teaching tip for your child with ADHD.  Whenever you need to grab attention and hold onto it, you may want to work with one of your child’s favorite subjects.

I used to discover my student’s interests which could be anything from specific clothes, to animals, or toys, to a location, etc.  From there, I would work with those items of interest and integrate them into the lesson.  If we were working on basic math, out would come laminated pictures of the child’s favorite type of toy or pictures of video game players.  Although your child may not grasp addition, they do get their favorite areas of interest.  Your job now is to relate addition to their already understood area of interest.


The second skill usually associated with ADHD is working memory.  Working Memory (WM) is the a cognitive processing resource for temporary storage of information while either processing the same information it is presently storing or different information all together.  According to Lui and Tannock, 2007, there is a direct correlation between the measures of WM and higher cognitive functions impacting areas like reading comprehension, etc.  Theories exist stating that WM is comprised of verbal (auditory) phonogical and visuo-spatial information.

Another way to look at this is if your child scores low on WM than you can look at both the auditory and visual skill sets including their associated memory cups as a possible cause.  If these areas are strong yet WM is still low than according to Lui and Tannock (2007) your child’s attention skills, specifically the sustained and selective areas are most likely weak and the underlying cause.  The good news is that your child’s cognitive skills can be strengthened.

In Conclusion

ADHD is a mix of both neurological and cognitive weaknesses.  Your child can be helped greatly by working to strengthen the underlying cognitive skills followed by an integration of those skills into their everyday lives.  The good news is that Enhanced Learning Skills for Kids can offer you expertise in these areas using the Student Transformation System based on the leading brain training programs on the market today. The very first step is to have your child’s cognitive skills assessed.  We can help you do so while savings hundreds of dollars.  From there, we select a brain training program that works best for you and your child and within 12 weeks, your child’s life has been changed forever – in a good way!




Jakobson, A., & Kikas, E. (2007). Cognitive functioning in children with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder with and without comorbid learning disabilities. Journal Of Learning Disabilities, 40(3), 194-202

Daley, D., & Birchwood, J. (2010). ADHD and academic performance: why does ADHD impact on academic performance and what can be done to support ADHD children in the classroom?. Child: Care, Health & Development, 36(4), 455-464. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2214.2009.01046.x

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