Monday, 19 August 2013

Cogmed – a review and our experience

 Note to my quilty friends, this is not a quilt related post whatsoever. It’s more a parenting, ADHD, occupational therapy type post about my kidlet. So feel free to skip over it and pop back in a day or two when I’m quilty again :)

I’ll also apologise first up for the length of the post! I’ve tried to break up all the text with a few pics – trust me, this was the condensed version of what I wanted to say!

When our OT first suggested Cogmed as an option for my kidlet to help with his working memory, first thing I did was test out my googlefu to find some info and real reviews on the program. With very little luck. So that’s what brings me here – to write my own review of Cogmed for parents who might be looking at it as an option for their own kidlet. I plan to update this post as time goes on to help give an idea of if Cogmed has helped us long term. (Oh and in case you’re curious, I have zero affiliation with Cogmed, didn’t get any freebies, paid the full cost of the program (Goodbye $1500) – I’m just a parent wanting to share our experiences).

So brief overview – Cogmed is a program designed to help people with their working memory (different levels for different age groups). That’s an area that can be a struggle with ADHD. For my kidlet, if I give him an instruction with more than one step (i.e. get your shoes, put them in the cupboard and bring me your toothbrush), it doesn’t happen. He might get part of the instruction, or he might wander into his room, and come back empty handed asking me “What did you say?” or he’ll disappear and go play LEGO! His memory just can’t remember all those directions. Working memory is so key for focus and blocking out distractions. On the Cogmed page, it breaks down how working memory affects different age groups which I think is quite interesting!

Our OT suggested this program as being one that she thought would be beneficial for my boy, J at this point. Our OT is just fabulous – and she has never steered us wrong in the 3 years we’ve been working with her. So her suggestion held a lot of weight for us! We’ve tried a lot of things, and will continue to try whatever we can to avoid medication at this time. It might be needed in the future but we’re not at that point yet. I’ve started writing this post a bunch of times and it’s hard to be brief as we’ve tried a lot of things over the past few years to help my kidlet with his focus, concentration, and behaviour (and have written a bit about it previously). So briefly, things that we’ve done that help us (and I’m always happy to discuss any of these in more detail!) J is on a gluten, dairy and additive free diet, we do occupational therapy which includes weighted blankets, therapressure, joint compression, and activities such as the hammock which is very calming for him.

Now we are at the point that my J has started school.He is doing ok. He has a brilliant teacher who supports him and tries different things to help him at school. Like he is allowed to take a LEGO minifigure with him as a fidget toy for when he has to sit and wait a lot, or he can take sensory breaks if needed and have a bounce on the trampoline. We are very fortunate with J’s teacher this year! But he still needs help to focus. And that’s when our OT suggested Cogmed.

It’s a 5 week program – with 25 sessions included. We did the Pre-school version of Cogmed (called JM) as J is still young and his attention span is still quite short. With JM, it’s three activities for each session. It took us about 20 minutes each day to complete.Some days it was brutal. J was interested in the activities for perhaps the first 5 minutes, then he’d start to get fidgety, and lose focus. We’d take little mini breaks for him to “shake the sillies out” or “hold up the wall” – things that gave him a brief break then he’d come back and we’d get through the course.

I must say that rewards really worked for us. J got a special reward after each 5 sessions (LEGO is his reward of choice!) and then a big one when we finished all 25 sessions. I put the LEGO kit on top of the computer desk so he could see what he was working towards. He’s a bit of a LEGO Star Wars fan!

Anakin drawing

The Cogmed activities are all about these cute little furballs, that jump in a certain sequence, and then kidlet has to remember the sequence and click them. The number of the sequence builds up as he gets them right, or drops for wrong answers. Some of them he absolutely hated doing… like the ferris wheel. He really had to focus on this one as the ferris wheel kept moving which made it hard to keep track of which furball was which.

cogmed ferris

His favourite one though was the animal wheel. It had noises that went with the animals in turn which made it easier for him to remember the sequence. He got up to sequences of 5 on this activity which was fantastic!

cogmed animal

So we made it through the 5 weeks. My kidlet got quite sick with scarlet fever partway through so we had to take a break for about a week and a half. I talked to our OT about it, and it was towards the end of the training (we had 6 sessions left). Fortunately for us she said the hard work was done and we were at a consolidation point so the break wouldn’t affect his learning. And it didn’t! His first day back at Cogmed after the time off and his results were hugely improved! You can see the big jump on his chart. (oh and that big dip towards the end - that's when he was getting sick so obviously concentration was lacking).

Day 21 Cogmed

The last few sessions were hard to get through as he’d lost interest. But with the lure of a big LEGO kit (with a Yoda minifigure no less!), we made it through.

So!! The big question – has it helped? I think yes. J has gone up a level in reading at school (yay!). He has taken an interest in spelling and writing things. He is still a reluctant writer but he tries a bit more than he would previously. The number of times I have to repeat a simple direction have lessened. It used to be maybe 6 times (J get your shoes, J, shoes, J GET YOUR SHOES! This is a recorded message, get your shoes, Time for shoes) – drove me bonkers. So now we are down to maybe 2 or 3 reminders. And sometimes! He even remembers without prompting. Hello miracle!

You can see on the Training Index that overall his results improved from where he started at. He did start to tire towards the end of the sessions and that’s reflected in the results. But overall he’s gone from a start index of 45 to 54 at the last session, with a maximum of over 60. Pretty good I think!

cogmed finals

I will say that it was a tough few weeks. We’d start off with the first few sessions of the week doing fairly well. By about the 4th session, J’s behaviour deteriorated overall. He reverted back to some old behaviours he hadn’t displayed in a while (chewing on his hands and clothes, flapping, cheeky, bit all over the place). We’d take a two day break after 5 sessions and he’d recharge. The next week’s sessions would follow a similar pattern. So that was tough. But since finishing the 25 sessions, his overall behaviour is more settled and calm and he seems to be focusing better.

So that’s where we’re at currently. It is a very expensive program. But for us, I felt it was worth trying – particularly if it lets us go a bit longer without medication. It can be frustrating as a parent to sit by while your kidlet’s doing the course and missing the obvious sequences, or to try to keep them sitting still long enough to get through it, so you definitely need determination and perseverence! But I’m trusting that this will benefit my son’s learning in the long run.

Presuming I remember (maybe I need to do the adults version of Cogmed!!), I do hope to come back and update this post in a few month’s time. I do hope that the benefits will be longlasting – as Cogmed says they are. You can find a  FAQ page on the Cogmed website. Oh and I’ve just discovered they have a little working memory game that you can play online! I think I’ll be trying that with my kidlet to keep him practicing.

So there you have it. That’s been our experience with Cogmed so far!

And now we return you to your usual blog schedule – quilty stuff will be on its way

EDIT: One month on
So a month on from the program and we are seeing great results. J's reading has improved -immensely-. Our school doesn't use the RR book levels so I'm not sure exactly how many levels he's gone up but it's quite a few. He is now reading books with 4-5 sentences on a page and reading fairly fluently for his age. I'm impressed I must say! He also received a merit certificate at school for improved handwriting. The writing is an ongoing process but there is improvement - YAY!

EDIT: Late October 2013
We recently had a checkup with my son's paediatrician (specialist doctor in Australia, not your average GP). He was thrilled with how J was going and said there wasn't much more he could offer in the way of support. Just to keep an open mind about medication later down the track but for the time being it's a non issue. Great news! However I do think we need a bit of OT follow up currently as his teacher is reporting a few problems/unsettled behaviour in the classroom at the moment. But so far... so good.

EDIT: May 2014
So we're 9 months on since doing the program. J's reading has been doing really well - very pleased with his progress. Writing is still a struggle - but he often chooses to write me little notes which I think is great!
It is a little hard to say now how effective Cogmed is, 9 months on, as we're in a different year at school with a different teacher. This year has been a bit of a struggle and we are back to seeing an OT (new OT -desperately missing our old OT) and are now looking at having a diagnosis done for Aspergers. Not sure how much Cogmed has continued to show results - but I am definitely glad we did it as it made a massive difference at the time. 


  1. Thank you for this post! I have some friends with their sons on a similar track - a fidget toy helps them too :) By the sounds of this post you are a very loving and patient parent :)

  2. I like your quilty posts, but I like your 'real' posts too. Your son is so fortunate to have a mum willing to really do the hard yards for him and with him. And a big yay for the motivation that Lego can provide - that kind of bodes well for that extraordinary Lego quilt you've been working on.

  3. Good post Kristy!! Maybe it is the nurse in me but I love to learn about programs available, like Cogmed, to help people. You never know when you might meet someone who this info could be valuable for. I hope the improvement in J is for the long term. Great job, you and him, making it thru! I am sure your efforts will be beneficial in some way :)

  4. J is one lucky little boy to have a mum who cares so much about him and his growth and development x

  5. Sounds like you have both had a tough few weeks but it looks too that it has been worthwhile. Will be interested to see what the long-term benefits of the course are, with the dedication you have both shown so far it will, hopefully, be nothing but good news from here on in.

  6. I was interested to read your post. I like quilty things, but I think we should be free to share what's going on in our "real" lives. My GD aged 9 is diagnosed with ADHD. So far no medication, and diet is a big thing for her. Limited sugar, especially chocolate, low dairy, at times they eat a vegan diet. Thank you for your thoughts on this program, I will certainly pass it along. Good luck, it sounds like J has the best help ever, a Mom who is a real advocate!

  7. Interesting, I had never heard of this before. I would be curious to see the long term benefits. Thanks so much for sharing with us :)

  8. You all are excellent and diligent parents. :)

  9. Kristy, as a special ed teacher to little ones, I thank you for all of the work that you are doing with your fellow at home. The first and best teacher for a child is his parent and you, my friend, are a great teacher.

  10. It's nice to read the non quilty post's now and then, and as a mom i always love parent related ones.
    Ouch, the quilter in me immediately thinks about how much yardage could have been bought, and at the same time the mom in me thinks, to help my kids, there's no price to high.
    Fantastic work to both you and J and here's hoping it gets easier as time goes on!

  11. Oh well done to both of you! I'd love to see J's Lego Star Wars reward!

  12. great review! i made a lad at school a weighted scarf, lovely textured fabrics and weighted with kitty litter - works a treat when he's bouncing off the walls!

  13. Congrats on your post, by a loving mother and a beautiful son.

  14. Thats a really great outcome for you both, and food for thought :) My eldest has ASD and we now suspect with our second boy who is nearly 10 may have dyslexia and possibly ADHD....we are looking at SPELD here in NZ, which is another paid program, but I think it may help his concentration in he's a bright boy, he just gets distracted easily :)
    I look forward to seeing how the school year pans out for him as a result from this training x

  15. good review.. looking at this its similar to another training programme i'm using myself and would be equally beneficial for children called lumosity.. its very similar, a series of games that u play that challenge memory/concentration ect.. look into it gl

  16. You are such an awesome Mum Kristy! Fingers crossed that this works or at least helps a little for you all.

  17. As I am researching cogmed for my 9 year old now and I realize it would be a different program than preschool I am just wondering how it's going at this point with concentration and ability to follow directions. Thank you so much for your original share btw.nOne of the few reviews I have seen.

  18. As I am researching cogmed for my 9 year old now and I realize it would be a different program than preschool I am just wondering how it's going at this point with concentration and ability to follow directions. Thank you so much for your original share btw.nOne of the few reviews I have seen.

  19. Thanks for your post. writing from blore( India) We are looking at enrolling our 11 year old to son this program during the summer break from school. Your posts helped.


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