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Helping Cameron

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Helping Cameron: Stress and Learning
Cynthia Brough
PS200 Introduction to Cognitive Psychology
April 1, 2014
Professor Deborah Eastwood

Helping Cameron: Stress and Learning Cameron is a 15 year old boy who has been referred due to his problem of being distracted in class. On top of being diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), he is also dealing with the issue of his parents impending divorce. He does not display any signs or symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) but has been noticeably distracted during group sessions lately. Because of his diagnosis of ODD it will be important to attend to Cameron’s issues within more limited constraints of any behavioral changes due to his possible inability to tolerate overstimulation with more aggressive tactics. ODD is a consistent pattern of outbursts, fighting, and angry or unruly behavior toward authority figures. (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2012). There are proven techniques that can be used to help Cameron with his ODD, which can help him in many different aspects of his life, including dealing with the issue of his parent’s divorce and getting him back on track in school. Some of the techniques that can be used are; (1) determining what if any underlying disorders Cameron may be suffering from, (2) helping the parents to adjust the way that they are currently parenting and/or disciplining him, (3) offer training in social and emotional proficiencies as well as life skills guidance and preparation, and (4) as a last resort, medication if needed. (Demaso, 2012). There are four main subdivisions of memory within the information processing system, and each of these are processed in different areas of the brain. First is the sensory memory which is the earliest stage. Information is processed from the different senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell) and is stored for a limited time unless it is transferred to the short term memory. Our short term memory is our active memory which focuses on what we are currently dealing with or thinking about. Some of the memories are dismissed or forgotten, but those that we focus our attention on will move us onto the next stage, the long term memory. This is where we will store the information learned or experienced. Once stored in the long term memory we will be able to recall the information as it is needed in the future. (Cognitive Psychology, 2010). The working memory coordinates input with relevant long term memories that will allow us to respond to different events as they happen. Working memory happens in the prefrontal cortex, and memories that have been moved into long term memory are stored in the hippocampus. The processes of working memory and long term memory recall are linked together in the limbic system. The limbic system includes the hippocampus, which could be considered the clearinghouse for our long term memory, and the amygdala, which sends warning messages in the form of fear, stress, and anger. With the limited capacity of our working memory and our short term memory only being able to retain information for a short amount of time, being able to filter out any distracting emotions that are triggered by sensory input are key in recalling the correct memory that have been stored in the long term memory. Strengthening the associations between working memory and long term memory will also strengthen the speed and proficiency in recalling needed information, which is how intelligence is defined. (Cognitive Psychology, 2010). When a child like Cameron has to deal with stressful problems, like his parents impending divorce, the amygdala triggers the limbic system, sending multiple messages to the muscles and the prefrontal cortex. When threats are identified stress hormones are released. Because a child’s brain is still maturing, they have little if any effective problem solving skills which inhibit their ability to deal with the stressors. (Cognitive Psychology, 2010). Some may even become a victim to Directed Attention Fatigue (DAF). This is a problem in which there is a diminished capability to prevent interference while sorting out sensory input. Some examples are; 1. You have a hard time taking in information. 2. Focusing on a task may be challenging and your mind may drift. 3. You might have trouble listening, or do not hear things in the correct way. (Sensory signs of directed attention fatigue, 2008).
When it comes to intelligence and academic achievement, the working memory is a better predictor than a child’s IQ. The working memory is used to hold onto information instantly so that we can finish the task at hand. But we need to remember that just as different types of computers have different amounts of memory capacity, the working memory also is varied between individuals. Some of the problems with children who have a low working memory volume are; (1) they often seem like they are not paying attention, (2) they are prone to errors in following steps required to finish a task, and (3) they often stop doing the tasks completely because they cannot keep clear track of what it is they are supposed to be doing. The working memory is a main factor in intelligence because it can affect how a child is able to learn and how well they do on tests. Working memory is not related to IQ because some children do very well on the IQ tests but their working memory is considered average. It is important to remember that there are different types of working memory and some children might have trouble with auditory working memory (they struggle with verbal directions), and others do not do well in math because they have poor visual-spatial working memory. Bottom line is just because a child may have trouble with certain aspects of their working memory does not mean that they are not smart. (Dwar, 2012).
Cameron needs to learn how to perceive important stimuli and process it so that he is able to store it for later retrieval, and react to the stimuli in a positive and effective way. In order for him to do this it will be imperative that he learn how to direct his attention and self-regulate himself. (Cognitive Psychology, 2010). Cameron is not able to focus on his studies because of the extra worry and stress he is currently dealing with. Helping him to understand how he meta-cognitively ‘thinks about thinking’, (Cognitive Psychology, 2010) will enable him to catch when his mind begins to wander and then refocus his attention by reminding himself that he needs to pay attention to what is going on in the here and now. Getting Cameron in the habit of taking and using notes will help to keep him organized, as well as allow the working memory to collect the information, use the rehearsal loop to move the information to his long term memory, then back to the working memory and so on. When we take the time to write something down rather than just attempt to memorize it, research shows that the brain reacts in the same way as if we were actually doing what we were writing down. Writing something down can actually trick the brain into believing that the task was performed, which will lead to a better ability of committing the information to memory. Spatial interactions are created between all of the little pieces of information we are trying to remember when we write it down. The act of connecting any verbal communication with a spatial correlation helps to eliminate information that is considered less important. (Wax, n. d.). Mnemonics could also be helpful to Cameron. Making acronyms out of needed information can be a very useful tool in recalling information and remembering it for later use. An example would be the Mnemonic used in Algebra classes to help students remember the order of operations; PEMDAS. Students are also taught to remember PEMDAS by saying the phrase, “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”. PEMDAS stands for the order in which an algebraic problem needs to be worked in order to get the right answer. P = Parenthesis, E = Exponents, M=Multiplication, D = Division, A = Addition, and S = Subtraction. Activities such as this will help keep Cameron more engaged in his learning, which will help keep the connections between his working memory and long term memory active and improve his ability to recall information as he needs it. If Cameron can work on resolving some of the anxiety and stress that he feels about the situation at home, not only will it help him to improve at school, but it will help him cope with the changes about to be made at home. Helping him and his parents to utilize a practical, positive and hands on approach to the family issues, exercising meta-cognitive processes to help examine and counteract the stress he is dealing with, and using proper study habits and little tricks such as mnemonic devices can and should get Cameron back on track both academically and personally. His school performance and confidence should steadily increase and his family relationships will continue to improve, all of which should alleviate the stress that has caused so many problems for him up to this point.

References
Demaso, D. R. (2012). Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.childrenshospital.org/health-topics/conditions/oppositional-defiant-disorder
Dwar, G. (2012). How to improve attention problems and learning difficulties in kids. Retrieved from http://www.parentingscience.com/working-memory.html
Introduction to cognitive psychology (2010). Unpublished manuscript, Department of
Psychology, Kaplan University, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2012, January 6). Diseases and Conditions: Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/oppositional- defiant-disorder/basics/definition/con-20024559
Sensory Signs of Directed Attention Fatigue. (2008). Retrieved March 28, 2014, from http://www.troutfoot.com/attn/dafwhat1sens.html
Wax, D. (n. d.). Writing and Remembering: Why We Remember What We Write. Retrieved March 28, 2014, from http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/writing-and- remembering-why-we-remember-what-we-write.html…...

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