Summary: A new study reports that a video game, currently in development as a medical device, has shown to boost attention in some children with sensory processing dysfunction.
Study shoes one third no longer fit criteria for ADHD after 4 weeks of play.
A video game under development as a medical device boosts attention in some children with sensory processing dysfunction, or SPD, a condition that can make the sound of a vacuum, or contact with a clothing tag intolerable for young sufferers.
In a study publishing April 5, 2017, in PLOS ONE, researchers at UC San Francisco measured the impact of a “digital intervention” on attention among 38 children with the disorder and compared them with 25 typically developing counterparts, matched by age and gender.
The researchers found that 20 of the children with sensory processing dysfunction also met criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), using parent reports. These children exhibited reduced midline frontal theta activity, a neural measure of attention revealed through the examination of brain wave patterns.
After playing the video game for four weeks, this group of children showed improvements in attention. Seven of the 20 (one third) showed such marked improvements that they no longer met research criteria for ADHD. Significantly, parent-reported improvements were noted nine months after the intervention.
‘First Step in Personalizing Care’
“To varying degrees, all children with sensory processing dysfunction struggle to properly modulate sensory information,” said senior author Elysa Marco, MD, director of the UCSF Sensory Neurodevelopment and Autism Program, and associate professor in the UCSF departments of neurology, psychiatry and pediatrics.
“A subset of children with sensory processing dysfunction show challenges involving cognitive control, which includes sustained attention, selective attention and goal management. These challenges act as an additional impediment in their daily lives and suggest an important avenue for treatment,” she said. “This is our first step in personalizing care for these children and we’re excited to be approaching it with cognitive training.”
Sensory processing dysfunction affects 5 percent of all children, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association, and is considerably more prevalent among those with autism and ADHD. The condition can cause extreme sensitivity to some stimuli, such as loud noise or bright lighting, and poor sensitivity to others, leading to inappropriate behavior like “crashing into walls” or overly aggressive hugging. Occupational therapy is sometimes recommended to help children regulate sensory input and make them more comfortable and focused.
Game Design Engages Young Players
The study participants, whose ages ranged from 8 to 11, were instructed to play the video game that uses a digital platform called Project: EVO™. The platform is designed to feel like a consumer product with a high-level interface and engaging visual and auditory feedback. The core technology is based on patent-pending neuroscience designed to strengthen the brain’s ability to process and prioritize thoughts and external stimuli. It was originally discovered in the lab of Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, of UCSF.
The platform uses proprietary algorithms to automatically assess a child’s ability level, adjusting the difficulty of the tasks as they become more proficient. Users navigate a character through winding paths, avoiding walls and obstacles, while responding selectively to colored targets.
The researchers found that after playing the video game for 25 minutes, five days a week for four weeks, children with sensory processing dysfunction and inattention showed improvements in attention, according to both parent reports and an increase in midline frontal theta activity. While previous research has shown how the brain of children with sensory processing dysfunction is structurally different from their typically developing counterparts, the new study shows that some children have measurable functional differences that can be improved with this intervention.
“These findings are also important to consider from the perspective that one size doesn’t fit all, as there were selective benefits of this intervention for some of these children compared to their counterparts without attentional deficiencies,” said lead author Joaquin A. Anguera, PhD, director of the clinical program in the Neuroscape center and assistant professor in the UCSF departments of neurology and psychiatry.
“Moreover, this study highlights the importance of conducting individual assessments from multiple perspectives – parental reports, attention testing and neuroimaging – to have a robust understanding of why this approach was beneficial in the first place.”
Alternative to Medication
Marco said that the intervention may prove to be an appealing alternative to medication for the subset of children with sensory processing dysfunction and inattention.
“We believe that all children with sensory processing dysfunction should be assessed for attention challenges. We expect that about 40 percent will have deficits in this important neurodevelopment domain and could benefit from cognitive training,” she said.
If the technology is approved as a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration, it may be available through a child’s medical provider and eventually covered by health insurance companies, said Anguera.
The technology is also being studied in an ongoing large-scale clinical trial for children with ADHD. It follows the results of a study last year that found it could be used effectively to identify children with attention disorders, as well as a more recent study using the same platform to treat older adults with depression.
About this psychology research article
The technology was developed by Akili Interactive Labs in Boston and San Francisco. Authors of the current study report that they have no financial interests in Akili.
The study’s co-authors are Anne Brandes-Aitken, Ashley Antovich, Camarin Rolle and Shivani Desai, all of the department of neurology at UC San Francisco.
Source: Suzanne Leigh – UCSF Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Akili Interactive Labs. Original Research: Full open access research for “A pilot study to determine the feasibility of enhancing cognitive abilities in children with sensory processing dysfunction” by Joaquin A. Anguera, Anne N. Brandes-Aitken, Ashley D. Antovich, Camarin E. Rolle, Shivani S. Desai, and Elysa J. Marco in PLOS ONE. Published online April 5 2017 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172616
Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]UCSF “Video Game Promotes Better Attention Skills in Some Children with Sensory Processing Dysfunction.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 6 April 2017. <https://neurosciencenews.com/adhd-video-games-6355/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]UCSF (2017, April 6). Video Game Promotes Better Attention Skills in Some Children with Sensory Processing Dysfunction. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved April 6, 2017 from https://neurosciencenews.com/adhd-video-games-6355/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]UCSF “Video Game Promotes Better Attention Skills in Some Children with Sensory Processing Dysfunction.” https://neurosciencenews.com/adhd-video-games-6355/ (accessed April 6, 2017).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
A pilot study to determine the feasibility of enhancing cognitive abilities in children with sensory processing dysfunction
Children with Sensory Processing Dysfunction (SPD) experience incoming information in atypical, distracting ways. Qualitative challenges with attention have been reported in these children, but such difficulties have not been quantified using either behavioral or functional neuroimaging methods. Furthermore, the efficacy of evidence-based cognitive control interventions aimed at enhancing attention in this group has not been tested. Here we present work aimed at characterizing and enhancing attentional abilities for children with SPD. A sample of 38 SPD and 25 typically developing children were tested on behavioral, neural, and parental measures of attention before and after a 4-week iPad-based at-home cognitive remediation program. At baseline, 54% of children with SPD met or exceeded criteria on a parent report measure for inattention/hyperactivity. Significant deficits involving sustained attention, selective attention and goal management were observed only in the subset of SPD children with parent-reported inattention. This subset of children also showed reduced midline frontal theta activity, an electroencephalographic measure of attention. Following the cognitive intervention, only the SPD children with inattention/hyperactivity showed both improvements in midline frontal theta activity and on a parental report of inattention. Notably, 33% of these individuals no longer met the clinical cut-off for inattention, with the parent-reported improvements persisting for 9 months. These findings support the benefit of a targeted attention intervention for a subset of children with SPD, while simultaneously highlighting the importance of having a multifaceted assessment for individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions to optimally personalize treatment.
“A pilot study to determine the feasibility of enhancing cognitive abilities in children with sensory processing dysfunction” by Joaquin A. Anguera, Anne N. Brandes-Aitken, Ashley D. Antovich, Camarin E. Rolle, Shivani S. Desai, and Elysa J. Marco in PLOS ONE. Published online April 5 2017 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172616