Controversial Treatments for Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
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By Sam Goldstein, Ph.D.
Proponents of this approach believe that children with AD/HD can be trained to increase the type of brainwave activity associated with sustained attention and to decrease the type of activity associated with daydreaming and distraction. They claim the result is improvement in attention and reductions in hyperactivity and impulsivity.
The technique of EEG biofeedback involves measuring levels of electrical activity in various regions of the brain. This information is fed into a computer which transforms it into a signal, such as a light, tone or video game. Using this signal as feedback, the child is taught to increase certain kinds of brainwave activity and decrease other kinds (increase beta, decrease theta). Training involves between forty and eighty treatment sessions according to the proponents of this program. Each session lasts up to forty minutes or more. Since sessions are held two to three times per week, treatment can extend over three to ten months or longer.
Although this treatment has become quite popular and is marketed throughout the country, there continues to be limited, published peer reviewed research to support its use. Although there is an increasing interest in research in this area, the extensive claims initially made by proponents of this treatment (e.g., dramatic improvements in intelligence scores, dramatic reductions in AD/HD symptoms) seem almost too good to believe. Many of the initial studies published were seriously flawed by the use of small numbers of children with ambiguous diagnoses. Furthermore, published studies thus far have not included appropriate control groups to rule out the effects of maturation or placebo.
Biofeedback technology is not new. Although some believe it holds great promise in the treatment of AD/HD, at this time it must be considered at the very most an ancillary treatment used to support other treatments. From a research prospective it must be considered unproven. Parents are advised to proceed with caution. It is an expensive approach whose effectiveness, until better studies have been completed, has been not consistently demonstrated.
Other Controversial Treatments
Among other treatments that parents may hear about on the radio, view on television, or read about are the use of applied kinesiology (the manipulation of bones in the body, particularly plates of the skull to improve body and brain functioning), optometric vision training (exercises to improve eye tracking) and auditory training (enhancing the capacity to listen to and process certain frequencies of sounds). All three of these approaches have been marketed as effective for AD/HD. However, there is limited if any scientific support that any of these three will exert a significant, positive impact on the functioning of children with AD/HD.
This article originally appeared on Dr. Sam Goldstein's website in 2000, samgoldstein.com, and is reprinted here with permission.