Published April 19, 2011
Volume 19, Number 4

Attention and Achievement Center Offers Brain Mapping to Uncover Focus, Learning Problems   

Ali Hashemian, Ph.D., uses computerized training to aid patients.

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

The URL for the Attention and Achievement Center just about says it all: www.drugfreeadd.com. For so many families, this is a most welcome and refreshing approach to a problem that seems to be mushrooming not only among school-age children but adults as well.

“ADD, or attention deficit disorder, has become a fashionable diagnosis,” observes the Center's founder, Ali Hashemian, Ph.D. “But the information leading to the diagnosis is often simply a parent complaint to the physician, who then writes a prescription for a controlled chemical substance with known multiple side effects.”

Hashemian points out that this “diagnosis by medication” has many pitfalls. “I can’t tell you how many patients we see who have tried all different kinds of meds with no positive response.” After a while, youngsters still struggling in school fall prey to a sense of failure, low self-esteem, and depression. “Kids who are smart start to feel dumb, since society equates grades with intelligence,” he notes.

For a variety of reasons--health insurance limitations, lack of time or expertise, etc.--there is very little testing going on in the doctor's office to actually arrive at a scientific diagnosis. “So many other problems can look like ADD,” Hashemian explains. “Sleep disorders, depression, dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, and seizures—all can cause a child or adult to exhibit symptoms that call fall into the inattention category.”

At the Attention and Achievement Center, Hashemian and his colleagues conduct a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation to pinpoint the source of each patient's difficulties. In addition to the traditional instruments of testing, they use a new technique, brain mapping, to understand what is transpiring. The process records electrical activity at 20 to 30 different locations in the brain. A neurologist then reviews the results, comparing the data to the brain activity of a normal person of the same age. “Based on this study, we are able to determine if it is truly an attention problem or something else.”

Once the root cause has been identified, the remedies can be far-ranging. The Center can recommend specific accommodations at school, suggest modifications in the home, prescribe medications if warranted, and/or offer remediation through training.

Through the Center's computerized training, individuals learn to recognize the desired brain patterns and how to produce them. For example, when excess daydreaming prevents focus, a sensor measures specific brain activity and provides feedback. When the person is able to sustain an attentive state of focus, the system delivers a positive reward, such as resuming a movie he had been watching.

“MRIs have shown that the brain can create new neural networks, so it learns to produce those activities when focus is called for,” Hashemian explains. “What's interesting is that, unlike medications, these cause long-term change in underlying brain function. It’s like working out at a gym. Even more important, the results don’t disappear. After three to nine months of training, they are still there nine years later, while medication lasts for nine hours at the most.”

Now in its 17th year, the Center recently relocated its Pleasanton office to 4637 Chabot Drive. It also has facilities in Campbell, San Mateo, Walnut Creek, and, soon, San Francisco. For more information, visit the www.drugfreeadd.com or call (925) 416-1400. 


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