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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 a minute.
"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 the center.
"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 screen.
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. *****

(article abbreviated)

More on attachment disorder:

Find a neurofeedback practitioner: EEG Directory

Eric Sean Weld, a frequent contributor to Hampshire Life, is a free-lance writer and musician and assistant director of college relations at Smith College.