After two years helping students develop their mental capabilities, C8Kids, a New Haven-based cognitive improvement program created by a Yale psychiatrist, received national recognition last week.

The brainchild of Yale School of Medicine psychiatry professor Bruce Wexler, C8Kids was named one of the top six finalists in the Software & Information Industry Association’s 12th Annual Education Tech Business Forum held Nov. 26 and 27 at New York City’s McGraw Hill Conference Center. C8Kids employs “cognitive cross-training,” a principle combining interactive computer games with physical exercises to enhance cognitive functions in children. The program was chosen from a pool of over 80 products for its innovation and potential to improve child academic performance, said Karen Billings, vice president of SIIA’s Education Division.

“C8 Kids is unique because it focuses on more than a curriculum area or administrative task,” Billings said. “Their contribution will come from their ability to help so many students with a critical need and improve their ability to learn.”

The cognitive cross-training strategy used by the program was the product of 20 years of Wexler’s neuroscience research. After his experiments confirmed that connections between neurons are shaped by environmental stimulation, Wexler applied the principle of neuroplasticity — a term referring to the changeable structure and function of the brain — to enhance cognitive development in children.

C8Kids employs a series of computer games, which exercise the brain to assess a child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Repetition of these tasks strengthens corresponding brain regions, thereby improving academic performance. In addition, C8Kids programs pair physical exercises engaging the same areas of the brain as the computer games to further reinforce children’s cognitive improvement, Wexler said. He added that he particularly focused on improvement in the “eight core cognitive capacities,” including attention, response inhibition and information processing.

The program has worked with over 700 children around the world, including 80 Connecticut students, 300 New York students and 30 children in China. However, although C8Kids is based in New Haven, the program has yet to expand to Elm City schools.

“We’ve been in extended discussions with the New Haven school system and would very much like to work with them, but they haven’t found the right school or the right class or the right kids yet,” Wexler said. “We’re still trying to find the right venue for our program [in New Haven].

Wexler and Ken Coleman, president and co-founder of C8Kids’ distributing company C8 Sciences, both said they appreciate the program’s newfound recognition in the field of education. The company is currently discussing potential collaborations with Pierson Laboratories, a company contributing to educational technology, and Aristotle Circle, a tutoring program based in New York City.

“[C8 Science’s high placement in SIIA’s forum] is bringing us in contact with lots of well-established companies in the education tech industry,” Coleman said. “We’d like to work with them and expand our scope accordingly.”

For now, interested parents can purchase the C8Kids program for online use. C8 Sciences will soon introduce a new pricing model that will allow customers to determine how much they pay for C8Kids services, Wexler said.

“We want our program to be available to kids no matter what their socioeconomic status is,” he added.

C8 Sciences is hoping to develop programs that will target childhood autism and adult depression.