While counseling and drug therapy are effective and popular ways to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), some therapists are suggesting biofeedback (also called neurofeedback) as an alternative or supplementary approach for ADHD treatment.
Researchers have found that the EEGs of children with ADHD are different from those of children without the disorder. An EEG measures brain waves, and in the EEGs of ADHD children, there is more theta activity and less beta activity. Doctors know that this brain wave activity pattern accompanies a sleep state or non-alert state. Biofeedback training for children with ADHD attempts to change the abnormal brain waves by decreasing theta waves and increasing beta waves.
In biofeedback training, the therapist helps the child to become aware of the connection between brain activity and the information the EEG provides. The goal is for the child to learn techniques for controlling his or her brain waves. Just as ADHD medication, such as Ritalin, involves stimulation of brain activity involving focus, biofeedback also works on regulating these same areas of the brain.
While many doctors are skeptical about the benefits of biofeedback training, there have been a number of studies that support this approach for treating ADHD.
Dr. Vincent J. Monastra, author of a number of books about ADHD, including Parenting Children with ADHD: 10 Lessons that Medicine Cannot Teach, puts it this way, “While ADHD is diagnosed on the basis of behavioral symptoms, our findings suggest that the disorder also involves neurophysiological factors.”
Dr. Joel Lubar, a researcher at the University of Tennessee developed a protocol for ADHD treatment with neurofeedback in the 70s. His conclusion is that as many as 80 to 90% of ADHD children and adults can improve using these techniques. Othmer and Othmer, pioneers in this field, determined in a 1992 study, that in addition to improving behavior and sleep, biofeedback can even improve IQ scores as much as 23 points.
Parents also report improvements in a number of areas, including impulsivity and attention. While not an ADHD cure, biofeedback may be another tool to supplement traditional ADHD treatments. More research is needed to determine if biofeedback is effective long-term, as well as determining how ADHD medications might be used together with biofeedback training to improve the lives of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.