Attention and Concentration Problems: Biofeedback and Neurofeedback as Alternative Therapies for Helping Your Kids Perform Better in School, Sports, and Life
Few of us have gone an entire day without hearing a commercial for neurofeedback training as an alternative to medication for children’s attention and concentration problems. For parents who are fearful about the lack of long-term research about the effects of medications, especially stimulants, on their children’s brain, the idea that a non-drug treatment could impact their child’s attention and concentration problems is highly appealing. However, there are also questions about whether or not neurofeedback works, how much it costs, how long it takes, and whether or not there are any negative effects of the treatment.
A recent exploratory study conducted at a private school reported in Current Issues in Education stated that the use of meditation can be beneficial to 11 to 14 year old students diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. According to the researchers, “the technique has potential to improve attention, behavior regulation, and executive function by naturally reducing stress and anxiety and improving brain functioning.”
It is encouraging to see the growing interest in and availability of funding for research dedicated to the investigation of non-medication interventions for ADHD. Actually, relaxation training has been known for some time to provide benefits, and I have been using this technique along with others since the ’80s to help kids with ADHD. When combined with parent training, behavior modification and several other evidence-based techniques, I have found that children with mild to moderate symptoms can achieve significant improvement at home and at school without medication.
Published professional guidelines recommend that children with mild to moderate symptoms receive behavioral interventions, ie, some kind of behavioral help, training or modification, prior to moving on to medication. In the MTA study conducted by the NIMH, 30% of the children in the behavioral-only group normalized after 14 months, which means they were able to function on a normal level without medication. After 3 years, all of the children in the behavioral-only group demonstrated the same improvement in symptoms as those receiving medication and those receiving a combination of medication and behavioral intervention.
Unfortunately, even with this information, the rate of inclusion of behavioral intervention has been limited due to financial and time constraints. After years of working with kids with ADD and ADHD, I developed The Total Focus Program to help parents and families learn how to manage the behaviors that come along with the disorder. It can be used with or without medication as part of a total treatment program. Whether you try Total Focus or another program, I encourage you to seek out some kind of behavioral training program for your child with ADHD.
In a commentary in The Boston Globe, pediatrician Claudia Meininger Gold wrote, “medication can’t fix a broken childhood.” She goes on to say, “with our over-reliance on psychoactive medication, we have created another Ponzi scheme where, just as Bernard Madoff’s investment fund was not really earning any money, we are fooling ourselves into thinking that we are helping these children in any significant way.”
Also, US News & World Report also provides in-depth coverage of this topic, starting first by citing the recent recommendation of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence of the UK. They recommend the trial of behavioral intervention prior to medication for the treatment of children diagnosed with ADHD.
Imagine that you are living inside of a video game, where everything is coming at you at once and every sight, sound and sensation is a distraction. For a child with ADHD, getting through a typical day is something like that—and it explains a great deal about how they experience the world. Children with ADHD typically have impairment of functions such as concentration, memory, impulse control, processing speed and an inability to follow directions. If you’re a parent of a child with ADD or ADHD, this most likely sounds all too familiar. Over the years, you’ve probably struggled through homework sessions with your child, tried (and failed) to get them to complete certain tasks like cleaning their room or finishing yard work, and on more than one occasion, you’ve probably felt completely drained by their high energy and seeming inability to focus.
The good news is, there is something you can do to help your ADHD child improve their concentration skills. For years it was thought that each of us was born with a generous supply of brain cells, but that we were unable to produce additional cells or make changes in how they function. Fairly recently, neuroscientists discovered the presence of something called “neuroplasticity” which enables the brain to actually grow additional cells or modify the function of existing cells. Amazingly, cognitive exercises have been found to produce desired changes in not only how the brain works, but how itlooks. What this means for parents is that you now have the ability to work with your child to help improve their ADHD symptoms. Continue reading →