Neurofeedback Treatment (Part 1) : Myth or Medicine?

This is the first in a three-part series of personal perspectives on bio-medical interventions we have tried. Read: Neurofeedback Treatment – Part 2 | Part 3

brain-waves

First Hand!

We are one of those parents who believe that we should try anything and everything that can help our son. Probably not unlike most other parents with kids on the spectrum. Even if something does not cure him, if it just helps in one area, in some small percent, that the sum would make him whole.

Neurofeedback was one of those treatments, and it’s the first of a series of bio medical interventions that I’d like to share simply because it’s the most expensive. Hopefully, this is one datapoint that you can use with your research to decide if this is right for your child. We had a total of 130 sessions which makes me quite qualified to offer an opinion!

There are two questions you must ask : is this effective and if it is, who should I go to.  I somewhat researched the first, but not the second since I thought all companies provided the same service, but that’s not the case. Not all neurofeedback are created equal as it’s as much a science as it is an art.

What is Neurofeedback

We looked to neurofeedback as it’s non-invasive, painless and does not require medication. It made sense to me based on the premise that the brain can be “taught” and “programmed”. Neurofeedback teaches your brain to focus better, relax and improve your moods, and claims to have numerous applications for helping a broad spectrum of disorders from autism, anxiety to ADD/ADHD, bipolar, epileptic seizures to even enhancing sports performance.

It Begins with a Brain Mapping or QEEG

A brain mapping called a QEEG (Quantitative Electroencephalogram) is first done to analyze brainwave patterns before treatment begins.  This typically costs a couple of hundred dollars or low one thousand.  There are four different brain wave patterns – delta, theta, alpha, beta – each associated with different functions like sleeping, day dreaming, relaxation and anxiety. The QEEG identifies any abnormal brain wave patterns and then a protocol is set up for therapy to correct those patterns.

For example, in a typical ADD child, there will be too many slow alpha brain waves so the therapy would target those brain waves and speed them up to improve concentration.  It uses special computer software to measure and train the brainwave to correct imbalances in order to get the brain to perform better. Conversely, it could have too many beta brainwaves which cause anxiety, which will need to be slowed down.  After repeated intense training and practice targeting brain waves that are underperforming or overactive, the brain will adapt and achieve the desired level of brainwave activity.

Part 2: Neurofeedback Treatment – Jumping In With Both Feet

Kate M

Reformed Corporate Workhorse. Reuser / Recycler. Blogger. Reader. Singapore Girl. San Diego Mom. Believer.

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Neurofeedback Treatment (Part 2) : Jumping in with Both Feet

This is the second in a three-part series of personal perspectives on bio-medical interventions we have tried. Read: Neurofeedback Treatment – Part 1 | Part 3

autism-brain-scan

Actual QEEG for “Jack”

 

So, we jumped in with both feet — and signed up for 70 hours of treatment —

The first treatment we did for our son was with an institute based in Irvine. Neurofeedback seemed like a medically-sound approach and is the only one that uses some kind of objective measurement to evaluate the patient’s condition.  We liked the possibilities and the “before” and “after” mapping to monitor the results of the treatment.  As with many parents who jump at the promise of a cure, we immediately signed up with them after our first meeting with its director who’s an MD.  That lent more credence to both the Institute and the treatment.

After the initial meeting and closing the “sale” with us, we never saw the good doctor again.  And I mean it in the literal sense of the word!  As soon as the deal was closed, we were passed on to his team of technicians and counsellors, who assured us that though we do not meet with him, he personally reviews the treatment and protocol to decide what settings my son should be getting.  (The technicians operate the computer system where my son would sit for 40 min each session, and the counsellor is really a marriage and family therapist who would review the case every couple of weeks with us)  Not once did the doctor meet my son.  That should have sent a red flag, but we chose to squash those doubts because when you are desperate you want to believe that there’s going to be a good outcome so you push aside fears and negative thoughts.

We went into it, hoping for some results, not expecting a miracle. Even if it partially addressed one of two problems we would’ve been quite ecstatic.   It did not address the two major concerns we were were trying to alter : 1) attention and 2) anxiety. After logging 9,000 miles in four months – three to four times a week for 4-5 months, 120 mile round trip from San Diego to Irvine each visit, for 75 visits, and some $10,000 poorer, there was no significant, no, make that discernible difference with Jack’s problems.

We had wasted the summer of 2009, dispirited because nothing’s changed.

Part 3: Neurofeedback Treatment – Like A Drowning Man Grasping At Straw

Kate M

Reformed Corporate Workhorse. Reuser / Recycler. Blogger. Reader. Singapore Girl. San Diego Mom. Believer.

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Neurofeedback Treatment (Part 3) : Like a Drowning Man Grasping Straw

This is the last of a three-part series of personal perspectives on bio-medical interventions we have tried. Read: Neurofeedback Treatment – Part 1 | Part 2

child-looking-through-wavy-glass

Like a drowning man grasping straw… two years later

So then why did we go back two years later and do another series of 60 sessions?!!  Maybe we’re eternal optimist, maybe we’re fools, but I think mostly, we were desperate.

A casual conversation with a school mom convinced me that in neurofeedback the provider can make a difference to the quality and effectiveness of the treatment.  No different from doctors.  She thought that it might be the provider that was the problem, and I shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. She had seen a huge change in her eight year old boy.  He could concentrate, he was more organized, responded when spoken to, and I heard and saw him myself reading quietly with the mom, engaging and asking questions! She said teachers, visiting families all saw the change in him.  That one testimonial was enough to get me back to another series of neurofeedback sessions for my son.

I immediately contacted the Attention Learning Center, based in San Juan Capistrano, with an office in San Diego. We signed up for 50 sessions, then added another 10 when we didn’t see the desired results. After 60 sessions, the post-treatment brain mapping showed some improvement in his some of his brain waves, but it didn’t translate into improvement in attention or staying on task in school or at home.  We saw no difference in the impulsivity, self control and mood symptoms.

However there was a huge difference between the first practice and the second. That was in the director running ALC.  Dr Michael Linden is actively involved in his patient’s cases. He met with us and our son during the intake, and every month to review his progress. He listened, was accessible, and drove every month from San Juan Capistrano to San Diego to meet with families. He tweaked and made changes to the protocol to address issues.

If I had to do it all over again

Yes,  I would probably still have done it. The positive results from the mom from school is enough to convince me that there are some merits to it.  If I didn’t try it, I might not forgive myself for seeking out every help I could find. My conclusion is that brain mapping doesn’t lie – it’s the most scientific assessment you can get of your child’s brain. Neurofeedback can and does alter those brain waves, but that’s where the connection then breaks down. For some, it translates to change in behavior, for some it doesn’t.  Like everything about mental illness and autism, you take your shots and hope and pray something works.

The selection of the provider is critical. Screen them carefully because it’s about reviewing patient cases, tweaking the protocol, making changes and understanding your problems. If they don’t even meet with your son, run out of the office as fast as your legs can take you! ALC did what they could, Dr Michael Linden is engaged with his patients, a competent practitioner in his field. Neurofeedback just didn’t help Jack.

Read: Part 1 – Neurofeedback Treatment: Myth or Medicine?

Read: Part 2 – Neurofeedback Treatment: Jumping In With Both Feet

Kate M

Reformed Corporate Workhorse. Reuser / Recycler. Blogger. Reader. Singapore Girl. San Diego Mom. Believer.

More Posts - Website - Twitter