2008
08.11


In MVA involving injury memory deficits can become an issue. Pain and lack of sleep contribute to this as do many of the medications prescribed to make it go away. There is anxiety and grief over financial loss or changed status. This compounds the issue. Each year more money is spent on pet food than for treatment to restore survivors of mild traumatic brain injury. Eighty percent of individuals diagnosed with mild brain injury have needs pertaining to the injury that are not presently met by current legislation. Treatment is described as too little, too late.

It was once thought that if there was no improvement in cognitive status in the first six months following an injury further progress would be minimal. Advances in science show this is no longer an absolute. Progress is possible.Every year Traumatic Brain Injury causes 20 times more disabilities than AIDS, Breast Cancer, Spinal Cord Injuries, and Multiple Sclerosis combined. Traumatic Brain Injuries have claimed more lives than all U.S. wars combined since 1977. Approximately 1.5 million Americans sustain a Traumatic Brain Injury each year. Traumatic Brain Injury is the number one cause of both death and disability in children and young adults.

WHAT IT DOES & HOW IT WORKS

Do you need help fixing your broken brain? Even if you don’t this article contains great strategies for improving memory skills and coping with life.
Want help with your memory? Let us look together at where the problem might be so we can suggest solutions. Information is first filtered through the senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling) or sensory memory. The sensory input combines with what we already know as the brain attempts to classify the information before it is encoded into our memories. Before it can be encoded accurately we have to pay attention or attend to it. The brain has only a few seconds of what is called working memory to encode material. When the information is needed we call on it to come out. This process is called retrieval.

POSITIVE STRATEGIES FOR A VARIETY OF SITUATIONS

Retrieval can be enhanced by rehearsal. The most common kind of rehearsal is saying something like a phone number over and over until it sticks in the brain. This is a problem for a person with memory deficits as by the time they get to the last number they forget what it is! In this case there is an unorthodox but useful strategy called chunking, instead of remembering numbers digit by digit such as 301 5700 think of three hundred one, fifty seven hundred. There are other solutions, write information down while repeating it to your self or ask someone else to write it for you. This is most useful when someone is giving you directions. The next step is to read the information back to who ever you got it from and ask them if your version is correct. This is also good for reinforcing understanding in conversation as sometimes what someone says to us is different to what we heard them say or is not what they meant.

To deal with problems of losing things here is some help. Pick places where you are comfortable storing things like keys, licenses etc. Make it a habit to always put them back in those places only. Write down where these places are and put it somewhere you will see it everyday in case you forget. When you go to a store only take something that can be attached to your body, forget about the purse that could be left in the shopping cart or car keys you carry in your hands.
When the memory is less than stellar even a parking lot can seem like a hopeless maze. Most cell phones have voice recorders on them as do many other devices. Record where you parked the car, for example the car is at exit c parking lot level three, third car down. Pay attention to which store you enter and what is close to the door, for example Macy’s, men’s shoes. This way if you get lost you can ask someone where these landmarks are and find your way.

Here is another strategy A piece of paper/card with a grid (kids math jotter paper with the little blocks) with place for a couple of stores names around the periphery or a land marks/monument, a McDonalds or a gas station and make an X in the block of the area where you best estimate your car is. A good place to put ID, credit card, money, parking lot stubs is in a ‘fanny pack’. If you can not remember how to get somewhere or get home buy a turn by turn GPS or phone a non judgmental friend.

There are many kinds of memory, visual auditory episodic, semantic, conceptual and more. This is good news because it means that you can use another kind of memory to enhance which ever kind is not working for you right now.

Here are some useful strategies. To remember an event think about what else you did, where it happened, the conditions around the event, ask your self how you felt that day, who was with you even what you did afterwards. Anyone of these can release a cue to help you remember.
To remember Peoples’ names, think about where you first met the person or go through the alphabet mentally, sometimes it helps to recall their significant others’ names or occupation. Just one piece of information can trigger the missing link. If all else fails ask them for a business card and read it or ask how they spell their names.

Learning something?-To remember something you need to learn, teach it to someone else, read your notes on tape and play them as you walk or at the gym, create a mind map or make the information into a story. Trouble finding words, look up a word that means the same in a good dictionary usually the synonyms will be displayed and your missing word will show up. A good dictionary can also show you how to pronounce words you have forgotten how to say. Forget how to spell it and spell check is not bright enough to figure it out? Break the word into syllables and spell the part you can figure out, from here spell check may pick it up or you may remember the whole word.

In the kitchen-For kitchen memories….don’t leave the room or be otherwise distracted when you have a pot on the stove. The same people that distracted you will remind you over and over about how you forgot something again! Do one thing at a time until your memory is healed, your ability to multitask will usually return. Buy appliances that turn off automatically, this may be expensive initially however it is cheaper than a house fire! Discipline yourself to use timers.
Often individuals forget steps of a process/task. In this case it is useful to lay everything out ahead of time. Think through what steps you need to take to complete a process/task. If this is difficult get someone to help you and write it down or record it for yourself.

For schedules…got an appointment write it down, put it on the computer, in the day timer or on a PDA. Another method is to call your telephone answering service and leave your self messages as they come up. Alternately make a list and number it for priorities then cross them off when you are finished. Too busy to prioritize…you are too busy! Make changes or you will get buried.
I Hope this helps some, nobody remembers everything so don’t beat yourself up. Keep working at it slowly and surely the more you use your brain the better it will get.

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2008
08.11


Professor Kawashima followed his dream. When he was a boy he saw himself putting his brain on a computer system. He believed that if he could represent mental functioning on a computer, he would be able to understand how people’s brains worked. On his journey he created the Nintendo DS brain training games. These games are inter-generational tools that are entertaining to people of all ages. Dr. Kawashima studied brain response with pet scans. He found when people simply watch television, brain zones that handle sound and sight respond. When playing a video game, zones that deal with motion and color respond. The part of the brain that really helps us think is called the prefrontal cortex. It is not stimulated with either of these activities.

Difficult math does not light up this part of the brain either, but simple math done under speed conditions makes a big difference. Reading silently does not use this part of the brain as much as when we read out loud. Dr. Kawashimi developed games that stimulate the prefrontal cortex. So the principle is to work out with your brain and have fun!
He came under fire because a British newspaper quoted him as saying videogames harm the brain. This is not actually true. He said videogames de-activate the prefrontal cortex. Professor Kawashima has four children. He let them all play video games but only for one hour every day. His reasoning was that sometimes the brain just needs to rest and video games were not harmful. He has done tests on elderly Japanese people. What he found was that solving mental puzzles can often arrest cognitive decline. Dr. Kawashimi says ‘I cannot comment on whether the illness of dementia is cured or not, but with these methods symptoms of dementia certainly improve”.

Other virtual activities that were once exclusively the domain of the young are being used with increasing success to rehabilitate older adults and bring them quality of life. In some senior centers card games and crossword puzzles are being replaced with virtual reality bowling or tennis. Crossword puzzles and sudoku are played in groups with computers and a mouse. These are much easier to navigate than small pieces of wood and studies have shown that simulated activities are almost as useful for practice as the real thing.

Some other scientists are jealous and treat his work with disparaging remarks such as there has not been enough time to test this or there is little empirical evidence. Other scientists like Dr. Posner are finding exciting results after only a few sessions with brain fitness tools. Scientists are testing brain games and finding increased brain fitness from the very old to the very young. Some say Professor Kawashimi is in it for the money. This is sad as all the royalties from the games and the books he wrote about the mind go entirely to the University. Dr. Kawashimi feels as a scientist it is his obligation and the obligation of others to return the results of our research to society.

This story is adapted from an article by Richard Lloyd Parry of the Times newspaper, London UK

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2008
08.11

In work with people a team means everything. Self esteem and ways of relating are constructed by what is learned from team interaction. Even in graduate school students learn that the key to power for scientists is flexibility and cooperation.

Many experiments show success after numerous well planned failures. Sometimes it takes only a new way of seeing to trigger a break through. We can mourn the past or prepare for the future, we can not do both. Often weakness in one team member will trigger unknown strength in another so it pays to obey the three fs of creativity,. Fun, flexibility and favor.

Your family and friends are a team that cares about you. Remember them, be thankful for their care and treat them well

The future depends on what we do in the present …Mahatma Ghandhi

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2008
08.11

Many years ago there were two gifted artists. They were poor and scholarships went to the politically astute so they were on their own with talent and no money. They devised a plan. The one brother went into the mines to work and support the other while he went to graduate school.

This brother, spurred on by the help of his brother graduated with honors and became widely acclaimed. He went back to his brother with joy and said “I can put you through school with class”. The other brother without bitterness lifted up his hands to show them to his brother, they were broken and crooked from years in the mines. He said “I can not go, the mines have cost me my hands”

The artist did a sculpture of his brothers hands, they became his greatest work. Most of us know them as they became the image for the famous serenity prayer. In life sometimes we are the hands and at other times the artist. It is good to consider the cost to our team and provide feedback and favor before hands are destroyed. But even hands that seem to be useless have value. Who you are is more valuable than what you do

“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless” Thomas Edison.

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2008
02.03

Rate yourself by attaching % to each of these categories of life family, society, career, health, personal growth. Make a circular chart…imbalance in any of these areas is like a flat tire. It takes away energy, productivity, slows down the ride and wears out the equipment. What can you do to improve the ride you take through life?

Small things make a big difference…4 hugs a day improves marriage communication. Making eye contact helps people feel valued. Catch people doing something right and express your appreciation. Exercise graciousness by doing one random act of kindness every day…even the small things add up and make a difference. Do you really know what is important to those who are close to you? How much have you helped them to realize their dreams?

Often we are nice to those from whom we are trying to win approval and we set aside those who value us. There are some people who will never be pleased or impressed with you. It is good to consider when to cut your losses and move on. Go where you are celebrated rather than tolerated.

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2008
01.13
helps to set goals as it gives your vision focus and direction. Writing something down or typing it helps to clarify the focus as this uses more areas of the brain than when you think about it without writing. Also once something is written it is easier to structure and adjust. Some people have trouble getting started. Here are some concepts that may help.
Think of all the things you would like to do in life if you had no limitations, write them down, which of these could happen in the next five years? What can you do today to bring one of them to pass. Now “Just Do It!”
Get three friends to tell you what they see as your positive qualities and what they see you accomplishing if conditions are right. This idea came from the book Brainlash by Dr. Gail Denton. Trying this out catapulted me into the area of Brain Science because three friends thought that was where I belonged when I did not know where I was going.
We learn by going from the known to the unknown. This reduces a variable we know as cognitive load. When things are taken from our minds and written down it gives them a place to rest and provides a foundation from which you can build. These are reasons setting goals and mapping out your future is important. Your vision written down can serve as a road map for your life. Write (type) your vision down

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2007
10.24

I came across a new term last week — helicopter parents. It describes baby boomers that started families as thirty-somethings. They evolved a more involved parenting style, which has persisted into elementary school, high school, and even college. Bostonia, the alumni magazine of Boston University, describes this new breed of parent this way:

“…helicopter parents, moms and dads, who hover over their college-age children, chiming in on everything from housing assignments to homework.”

No, they’re not actually doing the homework for the “child,” but they’re still involved in the process.

Lately homework has become a big issue. In the past twenty years, the tendency has definitely been to pile more and more homework on younger and younger children. Alfie Kohn identifies five themes about homework complaints:
1) A burden on parents
2) Stress for children
3) Family conflict
4) Less time for other activities
5) Less interest in learning

Let’s take just one finding from the latest research:

“there is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school.”

For more information, go to http://www.alfiekohn.org/books/hm.htm. or check out The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.

The key is to rethink homework, says Kohn. Instead of schools and teachers automatically assigning homework on a regular basis because “it is the policy to do so,” he suggests that the regular condition should be no homework. Homework should be given only if it is beneficial to the student.

Another person re-thinking homework is Richard Lovoie, who agrees with Kohn on this point and also believes that as students move towards high school that “well planned, appropriate homework can have motivational and academic benefits.” Go to http://www.ricklavoie.com/motivationbreakthrough.html

In either case, we can now move on to a few homework tips.
1) Use trial and error to determine the best time and place for your child to do homework.
2) Prepare a homework toolbox or kit with all basic, essential tools and supplies.
3) Ask the teacher for an acceptable example of your child’s homework that has been corrected and is neat and legible. Use this as an example to show your child what to aim for. Consistency is important.
4) If your child is very disorganized, go to http://www.organizedstudent.com/ and read and implement suggestions from “The Disorganized Student.”
5) If your child is overwhelmed by too much homework, clear everything away except one assignment. When it is completed, give him another one.
6) Many parents and professionals believe that homework should be done where it is quiet, but the fact is that many students are more productive listening to music in the background – especially instrumental music.
7) If your child has attention, distractibility and impulsivity issues, read and implement strategies from “A Homework System That Works” at http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/1034.html 8) If your child is very intense, sensitive and needy, go to http://difficultchild.com/ and learn how to apply the Nurtured Heart Approach to help your child.

We see a lot of students at Sparks of Genius (www.sparksofgenius.com), especially elementary school students, and I have to agree that homework is a major issue for all of them and their parents. And parents, by the way, means mothers. Right?

I know homework is an issue when the mother says “We have a lot of homework tonight.” So here’s another homework tip. When you check your child’s completed homework, look for neatness and completeness. Look over a few answers, but do not get caught up in going over every item.

Too many parents get overly involved in their elementary school student’s homework. Remember, you do not want to become a helicopter parent.

Recently I asked a mother of two, a dental hygienist, how she successfully got her son do complete his homework independently. She said “Look, I spent a lot of years teaching him how to have a positive attitude about homework, how to manage his time, how to complete his homework at the same time and place, how to use his homework toolbox, how to be organized and how to take responsibility for doing homework that is neat and complete and for handing it in.”

“When he entered seventh grade I told him he was on his own,” she continued. “What happened?” I asked. “Nothing,” she said. “He just started doing it.”

Remember, you do not want to become a helicopter parent. Or do you?

–Dr. Rohn Kessler

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2007
10.24

On October 20, 2007 I was invited by the Florida Special Arts Center www.flsac.org. to address an audience of several hundred persons invited to view a new documentary called Bridging to Gap: A True Lesson in Humanity.

Let me tell you the story of this documentary.

The parents of three special needs young adults designed a “color guard” program for “developmentally disabled” young adults. Now if you are wondering what a color guard is, modern color guard is defined as “a combination of military drill, also called marching, and the use of flags, sabers, mock rifles, shields and other equipment, as well as dance and other interpretive movement.” It is typically seen in parades or halftime events. Until now it has never been part of the special needs world. Now, thanks to the vision of Jerry and Ellen Kleinert-Cohn, it is.

Anyway, the color guard, now called the Special Needs Color Guard of America, got invited to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the documentary tells the story of that trip.

Ellen Kleinert-Cohn put together a program to train these adults to perform at many local events. She even got them a chance to perform at the Winter Guard International (WGI) Color Guard World Championships.

I was invited to speak at the screening of Bridging the Gap. Here are some excerpts from my speech.

“Martin Luther King had a dream of freedom. Ellen Kleinert-Cohn and Jerry Cohn have dream of inclusion, a dream that children and adults with special needs such as developmental disabilities will be fully included as belonging. They understood that we all have special needs.
Lawrence of Arabia said “All men dream, but not all equally. Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake to find it was all vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act their dreams with open eyes and make things happen”.

Dr. King dreamed with open eyes. So do Ellen and Jerry.

I too dream with open eyes. I dream of taking the best of neuroscience research and combining it with great computer technology to ignite people’s sparks of genius. I dream of brain fitness centers where people of all ages “work out” to improve cognitive and executive function skills.

Today people between the ages of six and eighty-three come to Boca Sparks of Genius. They exercise their minds playing computer “games” specifically designed to improve their mental strength, stamina, speed, flexibility and balance and, of course, to spark their genius. We use the term “brainworksbetter” exercises, and each member receives a customized set of exercises. They are assisted by friendly, highly-skilled personal trainers who are passionately dedicated to the success of each member of our fitness community. Many members of the fitness center also “work out” on home computer to maximize brain functioning and peak performance.

I dream of hearing the sounds of success, joy, confidence and discovery as more people around Florida, the country and the world discover, ignite and express their unique sparks of genius in a fun-filled, challenging, supportive, gym-like environment.

I see them all overcoming limitations, defying labels and breaking boundaries with their awesome accomplishments.”

–Dr. Rohn Kessler, Ed. D.

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2007
10.24

There was an interesting study by Michael Marsiske, Ph.D, a professor of clinical health and psychology at the University of Florida, which tested whether mental stimulation could improve cognitive functioning in adults age 65 – 94. (Link here.)

This study included training in 4 techniques to improve memory: meaningfulness, organization, visualization and association. You can use these techniques to boost your memory now.

Meaningfulness

We tend to remember things that have some importance to us. It doesn’t have to be very important, like remembering the code to a secret document which will save our lives, but if there is some significance, we tend to remember. I ordinarily forget phone numbers, but 2 days after my mother moved to an assisted living, I memorized her new phone number. Interestingly, after two years I still don’t remember the number of the nursing station, but I do remember where I wrote it down.

Another example is if I asked you where you were during 9-11 or when Kennedy was shot or even when they bombed Pearl Harbor, you probably can remember.
Interestingly a certain amount of emotional involvement helps remembering. That’s why we remember 9-11. But too much can have the opposite effect. Ask someone in an office building nearby, and they may have memory lapses associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

So the trick is to create meaning. For example, if you are going to the grocery store and you want to remember to buy spaghetti sauce, you might think about a trip to Italy or to your favorite Italian restaurant or even about a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western that you enjoyed watching. If it’s not just a forgettable can of sauce, it’s more likely to make its way into your shopping cart.

Organization

You are more likely to remember things when you put them in a category. For example, you are off to get your hair cut and you need to get gas and stop off at the store to pick up some fish for dinner. Before you leave the house, think about getting food for yourself and food for your car. That way you are more likely to have remembered these things when you get home.

Often memory training includes remembering lists of objects, and the more that you do it, the more neuronal connections you can build up in your brain. Let’s say your list is: fish, chair, potatoes, hammer, sofa, screw driver, pliers, bed and apples. As an experiment I invite you to close your eyes and to try to remember this list. I think it’s a pretty overwhelming task.
Now think about furniture, food, and tools. Think about the fish, apples, and potatoes as food, the bed, sofa and chair as furniture and the screw driver, hammer and pliers as tools. Now close your eyes and see if you can remember more of the list. If you did better, it may be because of organization.

Organization is actually a way of chunking information. Instead of remembering nine distinct objects, you are remembering 3 categories with 3 pieces of information in each one.
This can work with numbers too. Instead of 358902, think of three hundred and fifty eight and nine hundred and two. I often use this when I am giving out my phone number. It makes it much easier for the listener to write down the correct digits.

Visualization

Visualization is really a way of making information more meaningful to you. For example, if you wanted that spaghetti sauce, you could do more than just remembering your favorite Italian restaurant. Visualize yourself inside the restaurant, see Luigi the star waiter bringing you a steaming plate of spaghetti covered with your favorite marinara sauce, smell the garlic and tomatoes, imagine the taste of the pasta. The more different senses you can use, the more effective the visualization will be, and the more likely you are to remember to pick up spaghetti sauce.

Let’s say you have a doctor’s appointment on Thursday morning at 10 am. Imagine yourself getting up and having breakfast. See yourself looking at the calendar and seeing that it is Thursday. Imagine getting into your car and traveling on the route that you normally take. Hear yourself listening to your favorite song on the radio. Feel yourself sitting in your car seat. See yourself pulling into the parking lot and going into your doctor’s office. As you enter the door, see the clock saying 10 am.

Association

When something is associated with something else, we are more likely to remember it. This is why random facts like proper names or telephone numbers are so hard to remember, because they are not connected to anything else. If you can make the connection, you are more likely to remember.

For example, if you want to remember Henry’s name, think of Henry the VIII, O’Henry candy bars, Henry Fonda or any other Henry that you know. I just met a Lori the other day, and she was so excited because she had another friend named Ninah. Lori happens to be my middle name, so it was very easy to remember her name.

The hardest names are the kind that you have never heard of before, the ones where you don’t have direct associations or even name recognition. In these instances you have to be more imaginative. For example, let’s say that you meet Sharika. You may remember the Shari by thinking about Shari Lewis or by associating it with sharing. Think of the “ka” as being the ending of Topeka or Eureka.

If you have that list of words with hammer, potato and couch, make a story about these objects. For example, think about putting the potato on the sofa and smashing it with the hammer. I guess I though of this aggressive image because I’m tired of senior moments and wish they would go away without me having to work on them. But I wish I had the same metabolism that I had at 20, and neither of these things are going to happen.

How Computer Programs Can Help

We have reviewed some easy things that you can do at home involving meaningfulness, categorization, visualization and association which will boost your memory IQ. But there are also specific computer “games” which will improve these abilities, particularly categorization and association, and they also help with things like processing speed, auditory processing and visual processing as well. For example, you may have to click on the object which is not an animal or click on the computer mouse when the object is not the same color at the outline. These games can get more challenging when there are distracters on the screen, time limits or even games where you have to figure out the rules. There are also computer games that that help with attention and with stress reduction. These are just some of the games that we use at the Sparks of Genius Brain Fitness Center, and in addition to games that are personalized for you, you have a coach for support and encouragement.

So whether you want to use these tips to help improve your memory at home or whether you want to check things out the Sparks of Genius Brain Fitness Center, the important thing to know is that there is a lot that you can do to strengthen your memory and your memories and to enhance your mental fitness.

I’ll leave you with a final quote from Dr. Marsiske:

If you have any concerns that you cannot learn new things later in life, put those away. If people put effort into learning new and challenging things after age 65, they can grow in performance. And they can maintain those gains.

By Ninah Kessler
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Life Coach

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2007
10.16

In many traditions questions can best be answered by stories, and this is no exception. I’d like to tell you a story about Dr Rohn, another gifted underachiever, who is much too modest to write this about himself.

When I first met Dr Rohn in 1980, he had already had 7 years of experience as a psychologist in the office of the brilliant pediatrician Dr. William Crook. He was working primarily with kids who would now be diagnosed as ADHD, but some were just unmotivated and underachieving. They were not doing what they needed to do to succeed in school and in life.

Dr Rohn learned about Dr Crook’s pioneering work with food allergies (he later wrote the groundbreaking book The Yeast Connection). But after the allergies were taken care of, the kids and the families still needed help. So he devoted himself to finding out what they needed, including using what he called “psychological vitamins” which was basically noticing the positive in the child and in the family and bringing the positive to the forefront. Dr Rohn worked with whoever came through the door, intuitively finding the child’s strengths and finding some part of himself that could identify with and work with the child.

Dr Rohn’s work took him in many different directions including working with boys at the Eckerd Youth Development Center in Okeechobee. This was basically a prison for kids, the end of the line in the juvenile system. I was afraid to go into the place, and I don’t think that I ever did. These were kids who failed at school and in society. It didn’t stop Dr Rohn from connecting with the boys, identifying their strengths and developing programs that helped them

When he was in Okeechobee he started going for his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from FAU. After he got it and we moved to Boca Raton, Dr Rohn started working as a Family Counselor at 7 schools in Coral Springs. There he saw how many kids were not getting what they needed in schools, and were becoming frustrated, rebellious and depressed. Many could be diagnosed as ADHD, but many were bright underachievers. Dr Rohn started looking for strategies that could help these kids.

They say that we are never given a problem without being given the solution. When Dr Rohn was in Coral Springs, he learned about Play Attention, a computer program that worked to help kids learn to pay attention by given them real time feedback. He left his day job and started Thinking Pays, Inc., using Play Attention and other computer programs to help kids learn to pay attention. He focused on ADHD kids, because that’s what the software was designed for.

But we didn’t just get these kinds of kids. We got adults with age-related cognitive decline, mild dementia and brain injuries. And we got lots of bright underachievers. That’s what stimulated Dr Rohn to start Sparks of Genius, where he could really focus on the strengths. We use Spark of Genius with all of our students, but it was really inspired by those bright underachievers who needed something to motivate them.

At a time of self-reflection, Dr Rohn said, “When I was a kid I was so bored with school. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I used to beg my teachers to give me special projects, something that would interest me. I love what I do now, because so many of the kids that I work with remind me of myself. I had trouble fitting into the school system, and so do they. They need someone to remind them of their gifts, their sparks of genius.”

By Ninah Kessler, LCSW
Life Coach

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