Hampshire Gazette Article
How good is neurofeedback?
By ERIC SEAN WELD Friday, March 16, 2001 -- The Hampshire Gazette
Two years ago, when Kyle moved into his new foster home, he was out of
control, his foster parents say. · A 3-year-old victim of abuse,
neglect and a succession of guardians, Kyle couldn't sleep more than two
or three hours a night because of screaming terrors. When he did sleep,
he ground his teeth continuously to the point of wearing them down. He
was violent and antisocial, hoarding food and hitting and biting. He was
self-abusive, had no language skills, and could not sit still for even
"It was a horror show," says Kyle's foster father, James Vieira,
the target of most of the boy's outbursts.
"He was uncontrollable." Bonnie Schmidt, who was Kyle's day-care
provider at Davenport Child Care Center in Chesterfield, agrees.
"He was wild," she says of his behavior when he first came to
"He was bouncing off the walls. He was very aggressive and had a
major, major biting issue." The Vieiras had taken Kyle into their
Hilltown home after Kim got to know him through her job as his one-on-one
nursery school aide.
A ward of the state Department of Social Services at the time, the boy
needed a healthy home environment, Kim Vieira says. Kim says Kyle affected
her from the moment she met him.
"The first day, he bit my hand," she recalls. But when he saw
the slight wound he had made to her skin, "he kissed it. I saw then
there was someone sweet in there." After a couple of weeks, though,
the Vieiras, who have no other children, were nearing the end of their
rope, they say. James and Kim differed at first on how they viewed their
roles as Kyle's foster parents. Kim was closer and more committed to the
boy, they both acknowledge. James, who works as a stonemason, feared that
Kyle's behavior would pull them apart. They were getting no sleep and
had to be constantly on guard. They were aware of Kyle's scarring past,
how the boy had sometimes been left in his room for days on end, how he'd
once fallen out a third-story window and hit his head. But given Kyle's
rage and constant fits of violence, James was finding it difficult to
accept the boy into the household - and more difficult to believe that
he could ever be a loving member of the family.
Then, the Vieiras discovered neurofeedback, a technique that would quickly
turn their lives - and Kyle's - around, they say.
Kyle had already been treated with medication and psychotherapy, both
before and after the Vieiras took him in, but these had had no discernible
effect on the boy's behavior, James says.
"We didn't hold out a lot of hope for anything working at that point."
But he and his wife felt neurofeedback was worth a try.
Form of biofeedback
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that trains people to regulate
their brain-wave frequencies. By doing so, the theory says, people can
better control their behavior. Biofeedback was first developed in the
early 1960s by Joseph Kamiya, a psychologist at the University of Chicago,
who found that some people could control their brain-wave frequencies
when provided with feedback about the waves' characteristics. The development
of computerized feedback instruments has allowed the technique to have
broader applications. During a neurofeedback session, a practitioner attaches
electrodes to a person's scalp to amplify brain waves and translate them
into a pattern on a computer screen; then the practitioner monitors the
frequency range within which a person is functioning. Neurofeedback clients
engage in activities like computer games or aural exercises to try to
produce a healthy balance of brain waves - to relax if they are agitated,
for example, or to bring about more energetic behavior if they are lethargic.
Neurofeedback targets frequency ranges within either the left or right
brain to alter behaviors. The right brain, operating within lower frequencies,
tends to focus on issues and problems with a wider perspective, such as
creative endeavors and conceptual thinking. "The left brain sees
all the pieces," as the practitioner puts it.
"The right brain sees the big picture." Some scientists and
practitioners theorize that the human brain operates best within particular
ranges of neurotransmitted frequencies. Each session of neurofeedback
aims to train the recipient's brain to operate in optimal ranges. The
technique is a form of operant conditioning, in which a practitioner -
or coach, rewards certain responses to external stimuli in order to produce
a desired result. Neurofeedback, is just what its name suggests: the process
of giving information back to the person.
"We're increasing a person's repertoire to move from one brain state
to another, gracefully transitioning from one to another without effort."
Reactive attachment disorder Diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder
(RAD), which results in aggression and
lack of conscience in people separated from their mothers in early infancy,
Kyle was functioning in a very high frequency range, which is typical
of RAD children, when he began his sessions in November 1998.
"He was in a very high state of arousal," the practioner says.
So high, in fact, that in early sessions he would only pound the chair
with his fists and stomp his feet. Kyle's favorite neurofeedback activity,
"Space Race," is a sort of flight simulator on which he learned
to manipulate his brain waves to control the way three spaceships - each
one representing a different frequency range - moved on a computer screen.
When he relaxed, the middle ship, which represented the brain waves characteristic
of a low-stress state, would move along in front. The more he relaxed,
the more points were compiled by the game, until a "reward"
was granted, a dazzling explosion of graphic colors and shapes on the
By relaxing, and being rewarded for relaxing during each session, Kyle
exercised his brain's ability to experience that state, she explains,
to get used to what it feels like to be calm. Increasingly, he has become
able to achieve that state of relaxation at will in his everyday life.
The night after his first neurofeedback session, Kyle slept for 12 hours,
the Vieiras say. After a week of daily sessions, his teeth-grinding and
night terrors disappeared and he was sleeping regularly through the night.
For the Vieiras, it meant a return to a somewhat normal life. Now at age
6, after more than 200 sessions of neurofeedback training, at a cost of
more than $10,000 to the Vieiras, Kyle has the demeanor and personality
of a well-adjusted boy: engaging and courteous, alert yet calm, energetic
and playful. He wears a constant smile and, though his language skills
are underdeveloped for his age, he converses enthusiastically. Bonnie
Schmidt, who has kept in contact with Kyle and the Vieiras since he left
her day-care center last summer to begin kindergarten, says she has been
impressed with the boy's progress. "He's come a long way," said
Schmidt of Kyle after speaking with him on the telephone recently. "When
he said, 'Hi, Bonnie, I've been missing you,' I wouldn't ever have thought
I was talking to the same kid." James and Kim Vieira, who are both
certified naturopaths (naturopathy is a type of health care that relies
on remedies such as diet, exercise, fresh air and rest), acknowledge that
Kyle's neurofeedback training hasn't been solely responsible for his vast
improvement. They accompanied it with medication and with holding therapy,
a naturopathic technique in which they wrapped Kyle tightly in a blanket
and held him as they attempted to establish a bond through steady, calming
eye contact. And much of his development is likely the result of living
in a caring, nonabusive environment for the first time in his life, they
say. But the couple has no doubt that it's the boy's neurofeedback training
that enabled him to relax and remain calm, and therefore benefit from
a positive home environment. Kyle's case, say proponents of neurofeedback,
is an example of how the technique can help people overcome mental and
physical disorders and a range of bothersome behaviors: depression, epilepsy,
chronic physical pain, stage fright, agoraphobia - even a habitual lack
of concentration on their golf swing. Not everyone is convinced of the
legitimacy of neurofeedback, though. An offshoot of biofeedback, the technique
is regarded skeptically by some because of its association with the metaphysical
experimentation and consciousness-expanding exercises of the 1960s. Others
regard neurofeedback as a form of mind control. Some medical professionals
cite a lack of clinical research to back up the claims made by neurofeedback
supporters. But the Vieiras, after witnessing Kyle's turnaround, are convinced
that neurofeedback works. *****
More on attachment disorder: http://attach.org
Find a neurofeedback practitioner: EEG
Eric Sean Weld, a frequent contributor to Hampshire Life, is a free-lance
writer and musician and assistant director of college relations at Smith