What About Neurofeedback Instead Of Drugs?

When our son was diagnosed with ADHD approximately four years ago, we looked into a drug free treatment for it and stumbled upon neurofeedback (NFB). We never did take the pharmaceutical route, but it wasn’t until this past January (four years later) that we finally jumped in feet first and committed to the neurofeedback for our son. He was 10 yrs old. Our son had difficulty focusing, self-initiation of work, emotional and impulse control, incomplete classwork, couldn’t take notes during lectures, or do his homework without my constant nagging, prodding and watchful eye.

Oh, how I wished we had saved him years of frustration, poor self-esteem, forgetfulness and difficulty with school and homework by doing this back when he was 7 yrs. old.  It is by far the most effective treatment for ADD/ADHD I have ever experienced. We’ve done biomedical treatments for him which has eliminated a lot of symptoms, but his brain neurons needed more help. I highly recommend incorporating biomeds or at the bare minimum, a clean diet with neurofeedback.

The brain is going to need all the support it can get and the first thing you should do before starting NFB is to change the diet. By eating fruit and veggies with less pesticides, no artificial dyes/flavors/preservatives, eliminating msg, nitrites and sulfites. Yes, that means cut out Gatorade, Flamin Hot Cheetos, Skittles, Beef Jerky, cured meats and add in whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables. Oh the horror! Trust me, the pay off is well worth the pain of denying a 9 yr. old his request to stop at 7Eleven for his favorite junk food run.

What is Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback. In biofeedback, information about some part of your body is fed back to you, and you are able to gain control over yourself in a way previously unavailable.

In neurofeedback the information that is fed back to you is EEG (electroencephalogram) data read by sensors placed on your head. Very tiny amounts of electric energy are read and processed by electronic and computer equipment to provide you with moment by moment information about your brain activity.

Brain cells communicate with one another, in part, through a constant storm of electrical impulses. Their patterns show up on an electroencephalogram, or EEG, as brain waves with different frequencies. NFB practitioners first create a “brain map”, the initial EEG readings on their patient to serve as a guide for treatment.

Excessive fast or slow activity is associated with brain dysregulation, and a variety of clinical symptoms.  For example, my son’s EEG showed high Theta waves which are responsible for our daydream state. That explained why he “zoned” out in class and daydreamed, lacked focus and attention. The EEG can show which areas of the brain have high or low wave frequency, or when parts of the brain aren’t communicating adequately with other parts.  Training changes in that activity helps improve self-regulation.

This activity is shown to the neurofeedback therapist as wave patterns on a computer screen, and to patients as visual graphics–ranging from cars racing one another to rapidly changing side by side puzzles. The NFB practitioner will help the patient speed up or slow down the brain waves. The goal is explained to the patient (make one car go faster than the other), and the brain learns how to make that happen without the person knowing how they do it. A sound also beeps when the brain behaves as desired, which helps. Simply wanting to hear the beeps seems to be enough to get the brain to cooperate. This is known as operant conditioning, which forms an association between a behavior and a consequence.

Why do neurofeedback?

When you or your child has difficulty paying attention, or has feelings of depression or anxiety, or perhaps can’t stop thinking about something, is it a psychological or a physiological problem?

Utilizing neurofeedback to train the brain can change these problems.  This is a short list of what NFB can improve:

  • alertness
  • attention
  • emotional regulation
  • behavior
  • cognitive function and mental flexibility

Some of the conditions NFB is used to treat are:

  • ADD/ADHD
  • Autism
  • Epilepsy/seizures
  • Migraines
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

When you change the brain, it undoubtedly affects the mind.  The NFB training produces a measurable physiological effect on the brain.  When you give the brain information about itself, it has an enormous capacity for change.  Neurofeedback makes the information available to the brain almost instantly, and asks it to make adjustments.  The brain can respond rapidly.  Changes in the EEG due to feedback tend to correlate with improved behavior, mood, affect regulation and attention.

Our Success Story

Neurofeedback is usually done in 1/2 hr sessions, one to three times per week. Approximately 30-40 sessions are the standard for optimal change in brain waves. After the first 10 sessions, about 3 weeks into the therapy, I noticed the first dramatic change in my son. He no longer displayed oppositional behaviors and his emotion regulation was normal. He used to anger or get frustrated easily, but that was changed to a more normal emotional response. About the 20th session, his teacher at school noticed his ability to start his work independently. He was able to complete his work 75% of time and it was improving with each session. By the end of 40 sessions, my son was able to focus in school, complete assignments, take notes, write paragraphs unassisted, start and finish his homework by himself.

NFB is not covered by most health insurance and can be costly. The price ranges between $3,000- $5,000 for the brain map and 4o sessions. The good news is that NFB changes are permanent. As a parent that has forgone new living room furniture, a new car in the past 7 years, and countless other material things, the cost was well worth the payoff for my child and my sanity!  NFB works.  All I can say is if you are considering it, do it now. Don’t put it off until “we can afford it”. Work it out and it can change your child’s life. It has mine.

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