For many kids with ADHD, the biggest challenge they confront everyday is the inability to pay attention – in the classroom, while doing their homework, sometimes while watching a movie. Of all the human faculties, attention used to be one of the least understood. It’s neither a skill nor a talent; it seems to be an inborn ability that cannot be taught or acquired. However, the latest developments in neuro-imaging and genetics provide us with a wider and more sophisticated understanding of how attention works. Studies show that attention is critical to more practical life skills, like the ability to organize things, make deep connections with others, even developing a conscience. More importantly, researchers have discovered that people can be taught how to pay attention, even if they suffer from ADHD.
Brain retraining programs are designed to correct old habits of thinking that lend itself to distractibility, inattention, and lack of focus. Using imaging technology and foundations in neuroscience, brain retraining programs are an alternative treatment that can target the same deficits ADHD medications seek to correct. Although these technologies have not been around long enough to determine if their benefits will last, kids and adults who have tried them found that brain retraining helps in the here and now. The following brain retraining programs are particularly helpful for children with ADHD, but they come with their own drawbacks and limitations.
What it does: Neurofeedback is based on the principle that individuals with ADHD have abnormal brain wave pattern that are either over-stimulated or under-stimulated. Beta waves should appear in tasks that require concentration and focus, but individuals with ADHD usually have large theta wave patterns, which indicate a state of daydream. Neurofeedback can retrain the brain until they emit beta waves, thus eliminating symptoms of inattention and distractibility.
How it works: The practitioner will take the medical history of the child and identify the symptoms that need to be treated. Then electrodes will be strapped on to the child’s head while he or she performs a cognitive task like reading out loud. The brain wave activity will be mapped out so the practitioner can figure out the abnormalities in the pattern – which is the theoretical source of the child’s ADHD symptoms. Through a computer game, the child’s brain will then be retrained. The computer game will only work if the child concentrates and emits beta waves. If there are too many theta waves, the game stops working and will only resume when the child concentrates once more. The positive benefits of neurofeedback training remain for months and years after the last session. After a year of therapy, patients tend to reduce their medication dose by 50% or stop taking them altogether.
Costs and drawbacks: The sessions are only 30 minutes long and completely painless. However, the average cost of a treatment course can range anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. Neurofeedback practitioners are also only available in certain areas. Finally, neurofeedback can only address the inattention issues of the ADHD spectrum and should be used in combination with other treatments.
Bottom line: If you can afford to pay for the neurofeedback treatments, it seems to be worth a shot, especially if your child cannot concentrate on schoolwork.