Three years ago Jake’s parents sought out a clinic offering neurofeedback, a form of biofeedback that involves displaying a person’s brain waves on a computer screen and helping him control them.
Jake would sit at a monitor with a sensor on his scalp, and whenever his brain achieved the calm, steady rhythms that normally eluded him, a Pac-Man would start gobbling black dots and beeping. Soon he was controlling the screen action at will, by recognizing the way it feels when the Pac-Man goes to work, and his brain was growing more stable.
“It took care of his teeth grinding and sleep problems in two sessions,” says his mother. Within a week Jake was using scissors and developing a range of other fine motor skills. The number of seizures dropped, and his schoolwork improved dramatically.
Benefits of Neurofeedback
Called neurofeedback (or EEG feedback, because it uses an electroencephalogram), researchers in clinics, universities and even NASA are now working to refine it. Neurofeedback can help your child to:
- Improve concentration and focus
- Reduce errors on cognitive tests
- Improve response time
- Reduce obsessiveness
- Decrease bed-wetting
- Reduce sugar craving
- Reduce motor and vocal tics
- Alleviate mood dysregulation of moods and emotions
- Reduced depression
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce anger
- Improve IQ scores
- Improve handwriting
The effect of this intervention is far-reaching…. or the self-regulatory functions of the nervous system may simply be stronger.
This technology is emerging as a tool to improve symptoms of:
- Attention-deficit disorder
- Sensory Processing Disorder
- Learning disabilities
- Executive function issues
- Head injuries
- Sleep disorders
- Mood disorders
- Lyme disease
In the past few decades, neurofeedback has made its way into the offices of hundreds of reputable doctors, psychologists and counselors.
The most prominent application of neurofeedback is for ADHD because the business of the brain really is paying attention – not only to the outside world, but also to internal processes, through which it monitors its own activities and those of the body. When children with AD(H)D train certain brain rhythms, hyperactivity and impulsivity decrease and vigilance improves. Often children can normalize their behavior with twenty to forty training sessions.
It is important to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes neurofeedback as a Level One Intervention for ADHD, meaning that it is at least as effective as medication and that it is more likely to be covered by insurance.
Neurofeedback can also address specific learning disabilities such as:
- Visual retention
- Arithmetic skill deficits
- Difficulties in spatial relations
- Language-processing issues
The technique is unique in that it can specifically target shortcomings in localized hemispherically specialized functions. Jake, for example, would train his right hemisphere for spatial processing (geometry), his left hemisphere for dyslexia, and his frontal areas for articulation problems.
Neurofeedback was originally a treatment for epilepsy and seizures, still a prominent area of application. Training generally stabilizes the brain. The treatment may have to be long-term, but some gain is usually observable in improved level of function, reduced medication, and perhaps avoidance of brain surgery for intractable seizures.
Individuals with high-functioning autism, who respond well to computer tasks, and who can tolerate electrodes on their scalps, can also benefit. The best candidates for neurofeedback are those whose problems are more purely neurophysiological, with no compounding family and psychological issues.
Though neurofeedback appears to be very safe, it’s expensive; evaluation and 20 or more sessions can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. And while that’s about the same as auditory training or vision therapy, not all insurance covers it. The systems are simple to use, however, and a few practitioners lease units to patients, who can, with an office visit and phone counseling, take them home and do the training at a fraction of the usual cost.
It is exciting to think that such a painless, non-invasive, and relatively fast technology can help reorganize the brain to promote greater attention, better self-control, or improved learning. “I feel like someone has given us a piano and we’ve learned to play a couple of keys,” says Sue Othmer, Executive Director of EEG Spectrum, a company that makes neurofeedback equipment, trains people to use it, and has several hundred affiliates around the country.
Jake’s parents say he has made far more progress than they dared to dream. The few keys he plays sound like a symphony to them.
Sources & References
American Academy of Pediatrics. Biofeedback now a “Level 1 — Best Support” Intervention for Attention & Hyperactivity Behaviors. Evidence-based Child and Adolescent Psycho-social Interventions. 2012 Oct 5.
Arns, M., et al. Efficacy of neurofeedback treatment in ADHD: the effects on inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity: a meta-analysis. Clinical EEG and Neuroscience, 40(3), 180-189.
Beauregard, M., et al. Functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation of the effects of neurofeedback training on neural bases of selective attention and response inhibition in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 2006 Mar;31(1):3-20.
Duric, N.S., et al. Neurofeedback for the treatment of children and adolescents with ADHD: A randomized and controlled clinical trial using parental reports. BMC Psychiatry, 2012 Aug 10;12:107.
Gani, C., et al. Long term effects after feedback of slow cortical potentials and of theta-beta-amplitudes in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. International Journal of Bioelectromagnetism, 2008; 10, 4, 209 -232.
Gevensleben, H., et al. (2009). Is neurofeedback an efficacious treatment for ADHD?: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2009 Jul;50(7):780-9.
Leins, U., et al. Neurofeedback for children with ADHD: A comparison of SCP and Theta/Beta protocols. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback, 2007 Jun;32(2):73-88.
Levesque, J., et al. Effect of neurofeedback training on the neural substrates of selective attention in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Neuroscience Letters, 2006 Feb 20;394(3):216-21.
Monastra, V.J., et al. The effects of stimulant therapy, EEG biofeedback, and parenting style on the primary symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 2002 Dec;27(4):231-49.
Monastra, V.J., et al. Electroencephalographic biofeedback (neurotherapy) as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: rationale and empirical foundation. Child Adolesc Psychiatric Clin N Am, 2005 Jan;14(1):55-82, vi.
Rothenberger, A., et al. Informing the ADHD Debate. Scientific American Special Edition. 2004 Dec; 14(5):50-55.
Robbins, Jim. “A Symphony in the Brain: The Evolution of the New Brain Wave Biofeedback.” Grove Press, 2008.