Learning and Attention


Functional neurology offers a drug-free solution for ADHD and learning disabilities. This article provides an overview of the neurological basis of problems with learning and attention, as well as effective treatment options.

The human capacity to focus our attention, to use language, and to read and write depends on a brain structure that has evolved for hundreds of thousands of years. When humans started standing and walking on two legs, our brains began to grow larger. Balancing and moving on two legs requires a tremendous amount of fast-acting, coordinated brainpower, as well as a precise timing system to coordinate messages between many areas of the body to anticipate the effects of movements from one second to the next.

The brain functions that allowed bipedal movement set the stage for the development of complex thought. The areas of the brain that plan and coordinate movement evolved to allow abstract thought. The cerebellum, basal ganglia, and frontal lobes of the brain control movement, and they are also the areas of the brain that allow executive function, which includes our ability to make decisions, set intentions, and think abstractly. Because of this relationship between movement, it’s no surprise that most developmental and learning difficulties have a common symptom of poor motor coordination.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is especially dominant in the parts of the brain that promote movement. Stimulant medications like Ritalin that affect the function of dopamine have become the medical mainstay in the treatment of many attention, behavioral, and learning difficulties. As will be discussed below, functional neurology offers effective alternatives to the use of stimulant medication with a combination of nutritional support, movement exercises, and physical treatments.

The two sides of the brain have different cognitive functions and different effects on our hormones, immune system, and the autonomic nervous system that controls our digestion and other automatic subconscious functions. It is important that the two sides of the brain work smoothly together, with mutual checks and balances.

Two aspects of treatment are especially important. First, it is important to recognize that most difficulties with attention and development including Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Asperger’s Syndrome involve a lower functioning of the right side of the brain compared to the left, as seen with functional MRI and PET scan imaging. The treatment program should be designed accordingly. Second, dopamine function in the brain is affected by nutritional factors, especially the status of folic acid. Nutritional supplementation and dietary modification can have a profound effect on the ability to focus attention.

The attention and developmental problems described above are more common with males: for example, males are six times more likely to have ADD than females. Male brains are more asymmetrical than female brains, and therefore decreased levels in dopamine have a greater negative impact on the right side of the brain, because there are fewer dopamine receptors in the right side of the brain.

One the other hand, learning disabilities, dyslexia, and auditory processing issues often involve a lower functioning of the left side of the brain.

Functional neurological treatment to improve learning or attention includes brain exercises, movement exercises, and physical treatments that stimulate the appropriate parts of your brain, as well as lifestyle and dietary modifications to help your brain work better.