Neurofeedback Offers Treatment for ADHD and Autism
Editors Note: To protect medical privacy, the name of the family has been changed.
Most parents face challenges each morning getting their families ready and out the door. For many, this is compounded by a diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders in children and adolescents. Impulsive behavior, hyperactivity and inattention are key behavioral challenges. Though it’s normal for all children to express these behaviors, children with ADHD generally struggle with them for more than six months and at a greater degree than their peers. Many parents of children diagnosed with ADHD turn to medication to treat symptoms. But now, a non-invasive alternative treatment is available.
One Tulsa family has faced the everyday challenges of ADHD for more than six years. Sam Harding, 15, and his parents, Charles and Renee, first noticed symptoms of ADHD in Sam’s third grade year. Though Sam is a flourishing high school freshman now, his struggle to maintain focus in class and get along with his parents, didn’t always come naturally.
By sixth grade Sam went from the top of his class to struggling through each assignment. “Things he was good at, he couldn’t do anymore,” Renee said. Though it was frustrating for Sam, his teachers and his parents, Renee and Charles didn’t give up. “I was sympathetic and empathetic to him. I used to be just like that,” Renee recalled.
When Sam’s symptoms did not improve with discipline and age, Charles and Renee desperately searched for an answer.
Sam’s pediatrician, who now specializes in working with children with ADHD, diagnosed Sam with ADHD and prescribed medication to control the symptoms. Though the Hardings noticed an improvement in Sam’s schoolwork and his overall symptoms, they also noticed some undesirable side effects. Sam, who plays football and baseball, suddenly had no appetite. Already tall and thin, he lost a lot of weight because his body was putting out more energy than it was consuming.
Unhappy with the side effects from medication, Charles and Renee went back to the pediatrician for an alternative. He mentioned Neurofeedback (NF). Renee, who works as a professor of research at a local university, hungrily searched for more information. She didn’t look long before a local news station aired a story about NF treating children with autism at the RenuYou Neurofeedback Center of Tulsa. Though they didn’t consider it a last resort, the Hardings were open to any non-invasive alternative.
Neurofeedback therapy starts with a quantitative brainmap, an overall picture of brainwave functioning that allows for the ability to see which parts of the brain are working too fast or too slow. A customized treatment is created to train brainwave activity according to the brainmap information. Using electrodes placed on the ears and head, NF reinforces desirable brainwave patterns and discourages undesirable patterns. It is non-invasive and painless. While the NF occurs, patients can watch movies or play video games using only their minds. When a child’s mind is not focused, the sound and picture of the movie fade, but when the mind is alert, the picture and sound quality improve. Because it is a passive treatment that doesn’t require full engagement, younger children can benefit.
Anna Burson, M.S., is a board certified NF technician who has been helping families at the RenuYou Center regain a sense of normalcy in their everyday lives. “Most parents would lay down their lives for even a small improvement in ADHD or autism symptoms,” Burson said.
She notes that autism patients improve wonderfully and many who have come in for ADHD have been able to stop taking medication all together. According to Burson, medication acts as a stimulant only for a short period of time, whereas NF trains the brain to exhibit desirable behavior by stimulating it just as medication does, but without side effects like loss of appetite and insomnia.
“Medication targets one problem in kids with ADHD, while creating many other problems,” Burson said.
She is aware of the controversy surrounding NF as a treatment option for ADHD and autism. The research goes back only 10 years. Clinical trials are expensive and hard to come by because it is a newer field. “Universities fund the research, not pharmaceutical companies, so the money just isn’t there,” Burson said.
The main drawback of NF? The price. The RenuYou Center offers payment plans, but insurance rarely covers treatment. Each session can average around $80-$100. An average of 40 sessions is needed for an effective treatment plan, making NF a costly alternative to medication. Still, the Hardings say it’s worth it. With 38 sessions under his belt, Sam, who has been off his medication since December, has a higher self-esteem and is even tutoring classmates in algebra.
Bottom line? “It’s made a difference,” Renee said. “NF has given him his teenage life back. He feels better about himself and is more responsible.”
For more information visit www.renuyoutulsa.com or call (918) 747-7400.