David (not his real name) was a thirteen year old, eighth grade student who had reading and math skills one to two years below grade level. He was failing every subject and seemed destined to repeat the eighth grade. His teachers described him as disruptive and oppositional in class and stated that he had difficulty paying attention during structured and unstructured activities. The school administrators contacted his grandparents and suggested that he was likely suffering from an Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADD (AD/HD). They recommended that he be taken to his pediatrician and placed on Ritalin, a Class II prescription drug classified as a stimulant much like speed.
Even at home David was rebellious. His father had abandoned him virtually from birth. His mother, overwhelmed by the task of raising him and his two sisters without spousal help, relapsed into drug and alcohol abuse. She was frequently drunk and around David she was moody and volatile. He ran wild. He refused to obey her curfews, going to bed late at night and failing to rise for school in the morning. Intermittently he wet the bed. He never helped the family with housekeeping or yardwork chores. His mother’s parents, sensing that she needed help with David, and having been advised of his problems at school, intervened.
Even though David attended a good school in an affluent district, his grandparents doubted the wisdom of placing David on drugs. They thought it would only compound his problems. When they sought the advice of the family pediatrician, they asked for an alternative to Ritalin being concerned about David’s potential for developing a substance abuse problem like his mother. They were referred to a balanced, non-pharmacologic treatment approach which used as its cornerstone brainwave-based biofeedback, also called neurofeedback.
Upon initial evaluation the neurofeedback therapist found David so hyperactive that he could only sit still for a minute. When he measured David’s brain functioning, specifically his ability to attend to a task, he found that he had too much slow wave activity and not enough fast wave activity. In other words, his brain wave activity revealed that his brain was daydreaming instead of paying attention far too much to allow him to learn effectively.
During the interview David described himself as dumb but cool. He hung out with older, rebellious students like himself to compensate for his feelings’of inadequacy. He loved his mother but was struggling to maintain a relationship with her. He hated his father and wanted nothing to do with him. With his grandparents he had a solid and positive relationship and he especially respected his grandfather.
David began to use neurofeedback which trained him to alter his brain function so that he daydreamed less and paid attention more through the use of special software and computer enhanced techniques which allowed him to monitor his progress in a videogame format.
At first, David couldn’t sit still for his neurofeedback sessions. After the third session he began to enjoy the sessions. By his tenth session his mother remarked that he was more attentive at home and less oppositional. After his fifteenth session he was helping with household chores. After his twentieth session he stopped wetting the bed. By his twenty-fifth session his grades and behavior in school had remarkabley improved. After forty sessions his attention span had increased from less than one minute to approximately forty-five minutes.
Within six-months his reading and math scores had progressed one grade level. He was on the honor roll at his new school and his behavior at school was described as excellent. He began to see himself as a bright young man who had learning problems. He was looking forward to returning to his regular junior high school class at the appropriate grade. He had become a happy, communicative and responsive young man who could express his feelings instead of act them out. His self image no longer required him to be cool, but rather was based on his self-perceived capability to achieve his goals in school and in life.
David continued to make grade-appropriate progress in school but would have occassional setbacks. Intermittently he would return to the center for neurofeedback sessions and counseling.
The key to David’s progress was the integrated approach, anchored by neurofeedback. One can only ask what would have become of David if his chance to straighten out his academic life and his family life had depended soley on a drug.