What is ADHD?

We all experience some distractibility, impulsivity, or high activity level at certain times in our lives. But if these problems begin in childhood, are chronic and serious enough to interfere with school/job performance, relationships, or emotional adjustment, we may have a condition called ADHD, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Individuals with ADHD experience many of the following symptoms more frequently, intensely, and persistently than normal: hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, forgetfulness, disorganization, failure to complete tasks, etc.

ADHD is thought to manifest in three forms: primarily hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, primarily inattentive symptoms, and a combination of the two. Mental-health professionals have focused on the difficulty, yet importance, of proper assessment and diagnosis of this condition.

Causes and treatments

In one sense, ADHD represents extremes of normal personality-either highly energetic, impulsive, and fast moving, or the opposite-low energy, day-dreamy, and slow moving. But there is growing evidence that ADHD involves poor functioning of specific regions of the brain that control attention, planning, and self-control.

One common treatment for ADHD is stimulant or other medications to calm behaviour and improve attention, sometimes combined with behavioural or other therapy. But medication does not change the underlying nature of ADHD, so when the drug is discontinued, problems can re-surface in much the same form. Also, traditional, instructional methods for teaching control of attention and impulses have been disappointing.

There is therefore an urgent need for non-drug, learning approaches to improving the self-regulation skills that are impaired in conditions like ADHD. One such solution is neurofeedback.

Neurofeedback: a powerful non-drug alternative.

A powerful learning-based intervention is now available with the discovery that the EEG, or brain waves — the “language” of the brain related to activation and arousal — can be better regulated if people receive feedback to guide them.

In neurofeedback, brain waves are linked through software to the multimedia events of computer games and exercises, so a person learns to produce better brain-wave patterns by controlling the feedback events of the computer. Thus, patterns of attentiveness or calmness enhance the feedback, whereas agitation or distractibility reduce the feedback. Because the feedback is linked to actual brain responses related to attention, impulsivity, or agitation, even the most distracted or hyperactive individuals can benefit from the training.

Learning inner skills by feedback

Neurofeedback works on a very simple but powerful principle: in order to improve inner skills of self control through learning, a person needs to know precisely when the brain has achieved the desired state — and when it’s been missed. This immediate, time-locked feedback appears to be essential for certain individuals to learn inner skills of attention and behavioural control. Indeed, virtually all of us can benefit from this kind of feedback training.

It is remarkable to observe the way in which children and adults engaging in neurofeedback training learn the subtle skills of self control: the feedback enables them to “zero in” on just the kind of mental and emotional states needed in real-world situations. And the acquired skills appear to transfer well to normal life circumstances: Both children and adults consistently report better focus, calmness, optimism, and achievement in school and on the job. Top

The test of time

People interested in neurofeedback, especially parents seeking intervention for their child’s attentional or behavioural problems, often ask the important question: How much neurofeedback will be necessary for permanent change?

The problems that are addressed with neurofeedback are usually innate traits that people are born with, plus the long-standing habits developed to cope with those traits, so it is important to realize that training time, repetition, and consistent practice are all critical. How much training depends on a person’s “profile” — their unique problems and history. Some profiles may resolve in as few as 20 sessions, but most require 40 or more sessions.

Once results are achieved, will training always be necessary? In our experience, neurofeedback stands the test of time if a person trains to what we call critical momentum, which is that point at which their newly acquired self-regulation skills are used consistently in daily situations.