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ADHD Natural Treatment: Neurofeedback

In the last 20 years, studies have shown that there are significant differences in the brain wave activation patterns between children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and children without.  These differences are critical, because they indicate whether a child will be able to properly activate the brain centers responsible for working memory, attention, and impulsivity control. Let’s say that a child with ADHD is given a task that requires concentration. Instead of showing an increase in beta waves (the brain waves that indicate attentiveness), the child has an increase of theta waves (the brain waves that indicate when a person is daydreaming). This means that instead of concentrating harder to complete this task, this child is spacing out, the hallmark of ADHD.

Although prescription medications are designed to address the neurotransmitter imbalances involved in ADHD, they do very little to improve brain function in the long term. But there exist some solutions to rehabilitating the brain naturally. Retraining working memory with neurofeedback has been shown to help children with ADHD regain control over their impulses and behavior.  This non-invasive, drug-free treatment for ADHD is designed to help children change the way their brains work.  The first part of the treatment involves mapping the child’s brain by having him or her wear a cap with electrodes and sitting with his or her eyes closed.  The child is asked to read aloud or do some other complex cognitive task; while this is going on, the child’s brain waves are marked on a color-coded map so the clinician can detect any excesses or deficits in brain wave activity.  The map of the child’s brain waves can be compared to brain-wave patterns of “normotypical” children to help the clinician fine-tune a treatment plan.

Treatment for neurofeedback will involve 30-50 sessions. In each session, the child will be wearing the same headgear and will sit in front of a screen.  He or she will be asked to move characters around the screen while a computer program records brain activity. If brain wave activities indicate that the child is losing focus, the game will stop, and only resume when the child uses the area of the brain that activates attention.  

As the child learns to adjust his or her brain wave patterns, concentration, cognition, and behavior improve.  This improvement is also seen in children who take ADHD medication, but with one significant difference: the effects of ADHD medication wear off after a few hours. When this happens, the symptoms return.  On the other hand, a child who benefits from neurofeedback treatment and learns to control his or her brain wave patterns creates improvements that last for a lifetime, without any harmful side effects.  This is what makes neurofeedback a very promising natural treatment for ADHD. 

Clinical studies on neurofeedback efficacy on ADHD have been done since the 1970’s, and these have shown improved behavior as long as six months after the trial ended.  Recently, double-blind studies have shown that neurofeedback is a helpful treatment for ADHD, supported by science.

However, there are downsides to this approach: each neurofeedback session can cost as much as $100 and is usually not covered by insurance.  Not every child can benefit from neurofeedback treatment either – he or she has to be at just the right age.  If the child is too young, he or she may not comprehend the instructions of the task; if the child is too old, the sessions may be boring.  The older the child, the more difficult it will be for him or her to make any brain wave changes. In fact, clinical studies show that adults have a smaller success rate at benefiting from neurofeedback than children. 

If your child is between the ages of 6 and 11 and you don’t foresee any difficulties coming up with the finances to cover with neurofeedback, you can locate a practitioner near you by visiting the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America at www.bcia.org.