Psychiatry office offers program to help with ADHD


Published: Monday, February 18, 2013 at 11:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 at 11:25 p.m.

A series of online exercises might make living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder easier for Gainesville residents.

The exercises are part of a five-week, at-home program that allows both adults and children diagnosed with ADHD a convenient, drug-free way of coping with the disorder.

Though the online program was developed outside of the United States and is used worldwide, it is offered in the Gainesville area only through Sarkis Family Psychiatry, at 529 NW 60th St.

“We’re excited about it because I’ve seen a lot of folks and what they’ve gained from it,” said Dr. Robert Merrell, a Sarkis psychiatrist. “It’s an invigorating opportunity.”

The program consists of 25 sessions that each average about 40 minutes. Participants complete numerous tasks designed to improve working memory — the kind that helps you remember names at parties and where you left your keys.

The at-home atmosphere can seem questionable for those with attention deficit issues. But to combat that, Merrell said coaching calls are available for participants.

In those phone conversations, individuals can talk about what they’ve gained and what they’ve struggled with, giving them an avenue to receive positive reinforcement.

“It’s just one component of a more integrated program for optimistic mental health and wellness,” Merrell said.

Melissa Hamblet, the program’s coordinator for Sarkis, said it costs about $125 a week for five weeks, depending on insurance. She said the program is not intended to be a cure for ADHD or to replace medication entirely. Instead, it is a treatment option that can be tailored to an individual’s needs.

“Right now, our youngest participant is 8 years old, and our oldest is in their 50s,” Hamblet said. “There’s a good range.”

Since the program is available to all age groups, the exercises themselves are available in three different versions.

The child version resembles a video game, with bold graphics and a younger atmosphere, though it’s no less challenging.

There’s a story. There are levels. There’s an end goal, and after each round of memorizing number sequences or remembering which shape in a series came first, the end goal gets progressively harder to reach.

The other two versions are available for adolescents and adults — similar in content but each more mature in approach.

Hamblet said the clinic has approached Alachua County school officials about offering the program in schools for students struggling with working memory.

Kathy Black, executive director of the Alachua County Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services, said she hadn’t heard from Sarkis. She said the clinic might have contacted schools directly instead.

Black said that implementing the program within Alachua County is unlikely. “I am not aware of any public schools using the program,” Black said in an email. “The cost of the program, training of school personnel to implement the program and providing an adult for each child in the program would be hurdles to implementation.”

In Jacksonville, St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School — a private school for 1-year-olds to sixth-graders — offers the program after school for groups of select students.

Cathy Hardage, head of St. Mark’s, said it’s the school’s third year offering the program.

Though it’s hard to see the full effect in such a short amount of time, Hardage said the students’ reading comprehension and math recall statistics have gone up.

“I think using the program in the school is ideal in so many ways,” Hardage said, “because of the consistency.”

She said a group of teachers at St. Mark’s elected to train and become certified coaches for the program. They stay after school with the small group of students and provide personal feedback.

“They are able to talk to the students about how they arrange the tasks,” said Sheryl Brantley, learning strategist at St. Mark’s. “They ask them what is difficult, what is easy, and I think it transfers into how we approach other areas of the classroom.”

Brantley said the program is practiced over 25 consecutive school days and is offered more than once a year.

Each student is required to pay $1,000, Brantley said, and the revenue pays for the software as well as the teachers’ salaries for working hours after school. “We feel it is worth what it does for the students,” Hardage said.

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