Neurofeedback is an unfamiliar term to most people. It was to me when I first heard it several years ago. My then nine-year-old niece Suzy was getting this treatment to help her ADHD. I wanted to know more than what my sister could explain to me. In simple words, neurofeedback is a process that allows the person being treated to retrain her brain. The brain is the epicenter of electrical activity for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The information that enters the brain is carried by neurons (brain cells) on electric currents to be processed and delivered to its appointed task. The brainwaves are on a certain frequency that speeds up or slows down depending on whether we are sleeping or awake, alert or daydreaming. When our brainwaves are not working at the right speed, disorders like ADHD occur.
When Suzy entered the first grade she had a speech disability that made it difficult for her peers and teachers to understand her. She was also moving around the room without being directed to do so, standing on her desk, and shouting out answers. She could not self-regulate. Her actions and reactions were inappropriate for the situation. She possessed no social skills. All these things inhibited her learning even though she was extremely intelligent. Suzy was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
In ADHD the brainwaves that control attention and self-regulation are operating at a slower frequency than normal, causing the loss of control and lack of attention. Suzy's doctor prescribed medication that was supposed to fix the brain and help her pay attention. Instead, the chemicals caused her to hallucinate frequently and she developed full blown tics. She continued to have the inability to self-regulate and focus. My sister Shari took her off the medications and when she was told there was nothing more they could do for Suzy, (by then she was about nine years old) Shari had to search for other means to help her daughter.
During this dark period Shari received information about neurofeedback. She decided to try it. Practitioner Rae Tattenbaum of West Hartford, Connecticut, was recommended to her. Rae sat down and patiently explained the treatment. Suzy needed to have a QEEG, which took a snapshot of sites and their interaction in her brain. Through this and consultation, Rae would be able to target where to place the sensors and what frequency to train her on.
The form of neurofeedback Rae used was auditory and visual. Through the sensors Suzy was able to play a game on the computer. As long as she stayed focused on the game, it would work. When she faltered, it stopped. It wasn't easy to put the sensors on Suzy or to keep them on. They would fall off frequently throughout the session because Suzy could not contain herself. Many times during the session she would act out. Rae had vocalists and coaches who would spend time with Suzy while she trained to keep her engaged. Rae wasn't sure how much of the process Suzy understood, though the sights and sounds excited her.
Slowly, over a period of about three years of weekly sessions, Suzy began to show improvement and the intelligence she possessed emerged. She still had speaking difficulty that made it unpleasant for students and teachers to understand her. When they were younger, my children could not understand why she talked the way she did and it was hard for them to relate to her. I explained her challenges and encouraged them to love her just as she was. We found out later that Suzy had a high-functioning form of autism.
As Suzy progressed through high school, she was able to be mainstreamed from special education to regular education. Her work surpassed that of her non-autistic classmates. She was able to finish at the top of her graduation class. At home she was able to cook, clean, and take care of herself. She made friends. She was not afraid to go out and do new things. At twenty-one years old today, she is studying for her bachelor's degree, is active in her church, and has a wide range of friends and acquaintances. My sister told me a few days ago that Suzy often sits quietly to read a book, something unheard of in her ADHD days.
Her story is not new, nor is it the only one. Neurofeedback has been proven over and over that it is an effectual treatment with permanent results. Mainstream medicine might not accept the testimonies of its value without scientific studies, but all I needed was to see the transformed life of my niece.
Colleen L. Roberts