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Last week we talked about functional neurology and how it’s important to address brain function directly in conjunction with our efforts to address the brain indirectly with biomedical treatments and nutrition. Neurofeedback is one functional neurologic therapy that can help your child with a neurodevelopmental disorder like autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorders.

I had the opportunity to interview a neurofeedback expert, John Mekrut, owner of The Balanced Brain Neurofeedback Training Center and a father of a daughter with multiple neurodevelopmental challenges, on the My Child Will Thrive Podcast Episode 006.  Listen to the podcast for his full story and insights about the use of neurofeedback.  This article outlines the basics about neurofeedback options you can investigate for your child.

in a nutshell
  • Neurofeedback, also known as EEG (electroencephalography) biofeedback, is a neurological therapy that trains the brain to self-regulate by rewriting “inappropriate” patterns.
  • Neurofeedback is an evidence-based treatment, in particular for ADHD.
  • There are two types of neurofeedback: stimulatory and non-stimulatory.
  • Neurofeedback treatment for autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorders is a marathon, not a sprint—it takes hundreds of sessions to make good progress, but the commitment is worth it.

What is Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback or neurotherapy, is a research-supported treatment that trains the brain to self-regulate by reshaping brain networks, which can help sharpen attention, relieve anxiety, enhance mood, and improve learning and behavior in children with neurodevelopmental disorders. Neurofeedback harnesses the neuroplastic properties of the brain, or its ability to rewire itself for enhanced performance.

Essentially, with neurofeedback, the brain is trained to function more efficiently. The brain’s electrical activity is observed moment-by-moment, and when this activity exhibits appropriate patterns, it is “rewarded,” which helps to reinforce those appropriate patterns. When the activity is exhibited as inappropriate, the brain is negatively “rewarded.”

John Mekrut, owner of The Balanced Brain Neurofeedback Training Center calls it, “a technologically-assisted mindfulness technique.” He thinks that if neurofeedback were in every school, we wouldn’t have half the neurodevelopmental and behavioral issues we have in schools today.

 

Neurofeedback is Evidence-Based Therapy

For ADHD in particular, neurofeedback has been found in studies to be very effective. In one study, published in 2013 in the prominent journal Pediatrics, 104 children diagnosed with ADHD underwent five months of either neurofeedback, cognitive training, or a control condition.1 The neurofeedback involved 45-minute sessions three times per week in the classroom. After five months, the students undergoing neurofeedback made faster and greater improvements in ADHD symptoms, which were sustained at the six-month follow-up assessment, than did the cognitive training participants or the control group. “This finding suggests that neurofeedback is a promising attention-training treatment for children with ADHD,” concluded the researchers.

There are many other studies in support of this therapy, in particular for ADHD.2

 

Types of Neurofeedback

There are two types of neurofeedback: stimulatory and non-stimulatory. The stimulatory types do introduce electric or magnetic frequency into the brain in response to its activity. The non-stimulatory types only read the brain’s activity. The are many different tools, methods, and approaches to neurofeedback for both stimulatory and non-stimulatory methods.  Below is an outline of some of these different options.

Stimulatory Neurofeedback

  • LENS. The LENS (Low Energy Neurofeedback System) uses a faint radio frequency signal to stimulate the brain in response to its activity.
  • NeuroField. NeuroField Technology uses a very low intensity pulsed electromagnetic field (pEMF) as well as transcranial direct current and alternating current stimulation (tDCS/tACS) in response to heart rate variability (HRV) and EEG measurements, all in one biofeedback system.]
  • TMS. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic fields to stimulate the brain.

Non-Stimulatory Neurofeedback

  • qEEG. Quantitative electroencephalography (qEEG) goes beyond the one-dimensional EEG brainwave readings and looks at a map of the brain showing the brain’s electrical activity in different areas of the brain. Neurofeedback is performed in response to these readings.
  • Othmer Method. The Othmer Method, which is used by my recent podcast guest, John Mekrut, targets very low frequency EEG brain waves, tailoring its neurofeedback to these particular waves, which its founders observed over thirty-five years of practice, to be the most effective waves to target for children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

 

What Happens During a Non-Stimulatory Neurofeedback Session?

In order to give you idea of what you and your child might expect if you chose to use neurofeedback, here is a brief description of what non-stimulatory neurofeedback “looks like”.  For the full description listen to the My Child Will Thrive Podcast 006 – with John Mekrut.

During a neurofeedback session, electrodes are placed on the scalp to measure brain waves, and the patient will take in visual or audio content in the form of videos, video games, music, or sound recordings. Sometimes the patient can choose what videos to watch or sounds to listen to, and sometimes the input is predetermined. Most importantly, when the brain responds appropriately to the visual or audio stimulation, positive feedback is given, and when it responds inappropriately, negative feedback is given, which, over time and with plenty of repetition, helps to retrain the brain to respond appropriately more often and on its own.

With the Othmer Method, for example, the child will choose a video that she enjoys—the type of video is less important than how comfortable the child is with the video. The shape of the screen will change based on the brain waves exhibited. When inappropriate brain activity occurs in response to the video, the shape of the screen will change, interfering with the child’s ability to view the video. When appropriate brain activity returns, the screen will return to normal, allowing the child to view the video without interference. Over time, this sequence trains the brain to maintain appropriate brain activity in response to what it views.

 

Neurofeedback is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

For our children—those with autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorders—neurofeedback is not a quick fix. Your child will likely require hundreds of sessions. Rewriting the inappropriate patterns in our children’s brains takes time.

When researching neurofeedback methods and practitioners, ask if you have the option to do some neurofeedback at home with your child. Some practitioners will allow you to rent a system to use at home to help you reduce the overall cost—especially if your child will need regular sessions. It can get costly if you have to come to the office multiple times weekly.

 

How do you know if neurofeedback is right for you child?

Although many of the studies have provided evidence of neurofeedback’s ability to change the brain and help in a diagnosis of ADHD, applying such techniques should not be limited to this diagnosis.  Always remember to look to the symptoms your child is challenged with and their overall health when evaluating treatment and therapy options as they are a better indicator of what would work for them in their particular circumstance.

In order to evaluate a new treatment or therapy option for my child I use the same free tools you can find in the Guides and Resources section of this website!  I first make sure I’m up to date on my ongoing Medical History and Therapy Tracking Tool, then I take The Protocol and Therapy Review Worksheet and ask questions that will help me outline why I might be choosing this therapy, like:

  • How long will we need to do this to see results?
  • What types of results/outcomes can we expect?
  • How will we measure the effectiveness of this therapy (objective/subjective)?
  • How often to you reassess to measure progress?
  • What resources (time, money, etc) will we need to do this well?

The good news is we have many choices when we are looking for options to help our children. The bad news is deciding which intervention is right for your child can be difficult.

Let’s continue the conversation. Have you tried neurofeedback with your child yet? Do you have any questions about it? Leave a comment or question here on the blog, or head over to our Facebook group, the My Child Will Thrive Village to keep this conversation going.

 

References

  1. Steiner NJ, Frenette EC, Rene KM, Brennan RT, Perrin EC. In-school neurofeedback training for ADHD: sustained improvements from a randomized control trial. Pediatrics. 2014 Mar;133(3):483-92. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-2059.
  2. Fox DJ, Tharp DF, Fox LC. Neurofeedback: an alternative and efficacious treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2005 Dec;30(4):365-73.
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Affiliate Link Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, My Child Will Thrive may earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost you. I do not recommend products and services lightly and would not recommend anything here that I haven't or wouldn't use myself.

References/Sources

  1. Steiner NJ, Frenette EC, Rene KM, Brennan RT, Perrin EC. In-school neurofeedback training for ADHD: sustained improvements from a randomized control trial. Pediatrics. 2014 Mar;133(3):483-92. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-2059.
  2. Fox DJ, Tharp DF, Fox LC. Neurofeedback: an alternative and efficacious treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2005 Dec;30(4):365-73

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