WE got a bit of a shock in our house a few months back.
WE got a bit of a shock in our house a few months back, when we discovered that our six-year-old son, Jamie, was behind with his reading skills. Obviously, Jamie is still very young, but we were anxious to address any problems as soon as we could, in order to give him the best chance to catch up with his peers.
So for that reason I was extremely interested to hear about a new ground-breaking project from NUI Maynooth, called SMART, which is available through a company called Raise Your IQ.
Released in May, SMART stands for Strengthening Mental Abilities with Relational Training and it has been developed over the last 20 years by behavioural and educational psychologists as an intervention for those who may have learning difficulties, but also for kids who simply are not reaching their educational potential for whatever reason.
What drew my attention, in particular, as the mother of a child who is struggling a little, were the recent results from a trial conducted in Rathmore National School, in Athboy, Co Meath.
Fifteen children undertook the training over the course of four months, for periods of around 30-60 minutes, two to three times per week. The average rise in IQ among the group was 23 points, which according to Dr Bryan Roche of Raise Your IQ, is "life-changing".
Dr Roche is also quick to point out that SMART is not remotely like the brain- fitness games that many of us may be familiar with.
"This is not brain training, this is completely different. There is no evidence to suggest that brain training makes any difference to a person's IQ.
"Further, we are not simply teaching kids to be better at IQ tests, because SMART looks nothing like an IQ test. What we are teaching both children and adults is how to learn."
Apart from the significant jump in the average IQ level of those who took part in the SMART trial, two of the children who had previous diagnoses of dyslexia when they began had their diagnoses revised after a significant improvement in reading levels.
Another child, who was within normal IQ range when starting SMART, has now leapt to an IQ of 140, which is considered 'gifted', and two other children from the Rathmore trial are also now in the intellectual range associated with giftedness.
"What we are teaching are 'relational skills', which are the skills necessary to understand the relationships between things in the world around us," explains Dr Sarah Cassidy, an educational psychologist who has helped develop the SMART programme, and who also runs her own private practice, The Smithsfield Clinic, in Athboy, Co Meath.
At the Smithsfield Clinic, Dr Cassidy assesses and treats children with learning and behavioural difficulties. "As the children progress through the SMART programme, they get better and better at these relational skills and then they can apply them to any situation, resulting in them being able to interact more effectively with their environment, both at school and at home," he said.
Several published studies have proven that relational skills are stronger in people with higher IQs and, further, these skills can be taught to adults and children and improved on enormously.
Other published experiments have shown that enhancements in relational skills are followed by very significant increases in IQ (at least 10 points). These sorts of IQ rises are enough for persons with below average IQ scores to be re-classified as normally developing, or for an average range individual to be re-classified as above average or even higher.
"Up until recently, a person's IQ was considered to be something fairly fixed," adds Dr Cassidy. "What's exciting for us is that we have discovered that what were previously the limits are no longer the limits. Our studies have proven that there is much more room for manoeuvre with an individual's intellectual skills than was once thought."
So what's an example of a relational skill?
Dr Cassidy explains: "Relational skills underlie all intellectual ability, so if I ask you, who is your father's sister's sister-in-law, you would probably need a pen and paper to work it out; however the kids who have done the SMART programme can answer questions like this in seconds."
The answer, in case you're wondering, is 'your mother'. While the benefits for students are obvious, according to Dr Cassidy, adults who complete SMART are likely to see improvements in everyday things such as figuring out betting odds, totting up a grocery bill in their head, working out store discounts, and understanding the terms and conditions of a mortgage agreement.
"Strengthening relational skills has been shown to improve intellectual functioning in a range of different areas, including problem solving, critical thinking, memory, creativity – even humour; it can improve a person's ability to make up a joke," adds Dr Roche. While relational training is currently being used globally to assist with learning difficulties, the good news is that with the help of Enterprise Ireland and NUI Maynooth, SMART has now been released online so that people all over the world can use it at any time.
Darragh Swaine (12), from Athboy, the youngest of six children, describes the changes that SMART has had on his life: "It's made a big difference to all subjects in school, but especially reading and maths. Doing the levels was hard at first, but after a while it got easier."
Darragh, a keen athlete, plays Gaelic football, soccer and hurling and since completing SMART, he has also noticed a difference in his performance on the field: "I find I'm concentrating more on the ball now, it feels easier; a ball breaks and I know immediately what to do. At school, I get the head down and work hard."
The programme takes the form of a game in which you are required to answer a set of tricky logic questions within a certain time limit and without an error, and progress through 55 levels of these, each one followed by a test.
It takes several months to complete the programme but it can all be done at the user's own pace, and the software adapts to each user to makes sure that they are learning at the right pace and challenged at just the right level.
"There is a certain amount of task persistence involved, as you have to master each level before you move on to the next," says Dr Cassidy.
"But that's one of the reasons why we are having such positive results, and the great thing is that once a person is taught how to learn more efficiently and more effectively, that continues on through their lifetime – these are pretty powerful changes."
To give it a go, log on to www.RaiseYourIQ.com.
There is a free, three-day trial, after which SMART is €15 a month, and you can log on as often as you like.