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Articles    H3'ed 5/7/10

Schools and Neurofeedback

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We have been hopeful for many years that neurofeedback can be used in schools.

If you help children and adolescents learn better, learn to attend, and learn self-control, the societal impact could be amazing. Many therapists report clients who see them and say things, such as "you helped me change my life" or "God knows what would have happened if I hadn't done the brain training." Seben Fisher, a wonderful psychotherapist who works with a lot of very troubled clients, points out that some of these clients would be in prison if we couldn't help them.

We've seen a number of schools integrate neurofeedback, only to lose it later. There isno real major school program we know of, though there are a some schools using it individually. We'll describe to you the most successful project ever in schools with neurofeedback in Yonkers, NY. Click HERE to learn more about this project, which is no longer active.

There are serious questions about who in a school is qualified and trained to do neurofeedback with the most difficult kids. Are these clinical issues or school issues? It seems the schools have to deal with the problem kids anyway, whether it's special education or mainstream. How can teachers control these kids without first teaching them how to calm down and regulate their brain? Neurofeedback performs that role extremely well.

School Challenges
There have been other schools - individual schools, not systems - that have periodically included neurofeedback. Some have been successful for a while. But many programs have come and gone. Here are some observations why problems occur:

  1. Competition for resources. Usually, someone who works for the school system is selected to do neurofeedback - in addition to his/her existing responsibilities. That's a no-win situation. To do neurofeedback well, there's a significant learning curve. To do it right, there must be a commitment at a high level - perhaps with lobbying from parent groups or getting a local politician behind the project.In Yonkers, they finally were able to have a dedicated staff person to run neurofeedback - supervised by Dr. Mary Jo Sabo, who didn't work for the school system. That worked. Since there's a significant learning curve for neurofeedback, most schools simply don't have the expertise to handle it. The program needs to be managed and supervised by an outside clinician who's already very experienced with the target population.
  2. Studies. Individual health professionals use neurofeedback every day to work with difficult kids. There are studies and plenty of clinical experience. But there's no study that really shows the payback to schools, even if the treatment itself works. It's hard to get buy-in from top school officials without a clear payback to the system. There are many ways it will pay back - but a study needs to be done to show it. Until a fairly major organization comes in and funds such a school project, it's going to be difficult in many school systems to sustain the use of neurofeedback - when funds are so scarce.
  3. Project coordination. We've already mentioned the need to have a dedicated staff person - an incredibly hard thing to achieve in most schools. It's not enough. There need to be coordinated efforts on how it will be used in the school. The Yonkers Project with Linda Vergara and Mary Jo Sabo really developed a program showing how neurofeedback could integrate into the school environment. It took them several years. To do that again requires commitment at a high level. They had school board support. Without that, it would be difficult to sustain the success of any school project.

Conclusion: There is huge potential for use in schools. It can reduce special education budgets by allowing some kids to be mainstreamed. It can cut down on serious disruptions. But it's hard to build a grass-roots effort in the long term. Going the volunteer route makes it very, very difficult to succeed. Some high level support really should be obtained on the front end. That's more important than learning the neurofeedback itself.

Creating a school program:

  1. Get it to stick. Our recommendation is to get a consortium of parents, teachers, and administrators, a school board member - even local politicians to come out in support of the project. Think about not just how it can help, but how the school can justify it. In Yonkers, they saw an increase in average number of days attending per year, which translated into more dollars for the school. They felt a calmer school (they often targeted aggressive kids with neurofeedback) contributed to increased attendance.
  2. Focus on costs. With "No Child Left Behind", neurofeedback can help some of the most difficult kids become much more able to mainstream and improve performance. If kids are in special programs, it's been shown that neurofeedback training can at times help them move back into the mainstream program. That's a huge savings. Some teachers' assistants for children with autism have been made unnecessary as kids improved and were able to self-manage themselves. The reduction in costs to special education or special needs programs should pay for itself many times over. These are the same kids that individual clinicians using neurofeedback have seen for years and have succeeded with - from severe learning problems, to out of control behavior, to developmental problems. It will succeed in a school with the same kids - if the staff doing neurofeedback are well-trained and well-supervised and have the time to do it. But these are the hardest kids to work with, so the level of training, supervision and time commitment must be there from Day 1.
  3. Assume any school program needs to prove the success of the program - no matter what the current support. The first year should be a clearly defined pilot, with goals that support long term implementation. You will need to enlist a local or state university to help support the research side - defining and writing up the goals in a way that can be presented to the school administrator or school board. This could be from the education department, educational psychology, special education, or the psychology department.What about the research for neurofeedback in schools? This is an often asked question. Use the research that already exists. Point out it's being used clinically far beyond these options. Schools don't need to prove neurofeedback works. There's research, there's books, there's good explanations.
  4. Bring in a knowledgeable clinician who can meet with all the parties interested in supporting the project. If you don't have one locally, bring in one from a distance. Once people understand how neurofeedback works, it makes sense to them. Let someone explain it who already understands it well and has professional credentials. This is part of the team approach.
  5. Get some funding. There are many not-for-profit funding options in every state.There could be funds in the Special Education program targeted to this project without having to write a funding grant. That obviously requires some significant support. If you get the parents association interested, someone in the group might have knowledge of funding sources or grant writing. Also, if you find the right university to support it, they are also used to writing grant proposals.

    The funding is necessary. The equipment is a minor cost compared to the supervision and staffing. Recognize that it will take time and at least one dedicated staff person to do it right - not a volunteer, along with a knowledgeable neurofeedback supervisor. The staff person could be someone from outside the school who is trained in neurofeedback but contracting to the school,until the pilot is done. It's possible someone from the school can do it part time, but the pressures over time make that difficult to succeed. And they will still need extensive supervision.

The best supervision is not always local. Your goal is to find good supervisors who are great teachers and clinicians. Some of the work can be done on the phone. On-site visits may only be needed once a month once the program gets going.

Getting outside help regarding neurofeedback
If you get the right support to make this project viable, there are professionals in the field who are interested in helping make these projects work. They are knowledgeable about neurofeedback, but also about the requirements of accomplishing this kind of project. If you're at that stage, contact us, and we'll review the request and connect them to you if appropriate. If you have a good plan, or even a good team, they can be of some help. At some point, they charge for their fees, because these efforts cannot be done with no budget. Their goal is to help these kind of school projects and make them successful.

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Michael Cohen, founder of, is Director of Training and President of the Center for Brain Training. He has specialized in Applied Psychophysiology and EEG Biofeedback for over ten years. As Director of Education for EEG (more...)
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