About Biofeedback and ADHD

“I know a kid with ADHD – how can we get Jean’s biofeedback light sculpture?”
Questions like that came from last week’s post about the life of Jean Millay and her wonderful story about using the device she developed with Timothy Scully to change the life of a boy who had been unable to be focused and calm.

This post can only give a very, very brief and incomplete discussion about using biofeedback for ADHD. The Stereo Brainwave Biofeedback Light Sculpture that was created in 1972 has been replaced by newer generations of biofeedback devices and techniques based on the same technology.

Jean herself recommended The Journey to the Wild Divine, a computer-based program that became available in 2005. Although the original website has been closed down, on-line searches can tell you about the current availability of newer versions, additions, and adaptations. The original “Journey” became just the “Wild Divine” and now seems to be owned by something called Unyte. (I didn’t have time to discover more this week.)

For further information I contacted Sarah Bremer Parks. She and her husband Peter worked with biofeedback pioneers Elmer and Alyce Green in the voluntary controls program at Menninger.

Sarah wrote,
“Clinically, I use the standard approach the Greens taught at Menninger that focuses on peripheral feedback – handwarming, electromyographic feedback (for surface striate muscle tension reduction), and HRV (heart rate variability). Peter worked with a lot of children diagnosed with ADHD and discovered that universally they were sleep-deprived. Many parents didn’t realize that 10-year-olds, for example, need 9 to 10 hours of quality sleep each night. Of course, the children themselves often did not know how to relax and had a hard time falling asleep. That was frustrating, to say the least, for both the parents and the children.

Peter worked with educating the parents and encouraging the kids to have fewer activities and to slow down. He taught them that it’s OK to lie in bed resting and to do some muscle relaxation and breathing exercises. Quite often, when they truly discovered how to quiet the muscles, especially in the face – the jaw, forehead, and around the eyes (using biofeedback electromyography) – they were able to relax and then to fall asleep.

 Also, I always begin with teaching diaphragmatic breathing since many people don’t really understand what that is and what it does. (It emphasizes taking deeper breaths by moving the diaphragm downward when you breathe in and upward when you breathe out instead of breathing with just the upper chest.) This stimulates the Vagal nerve that tells the brain “all is well.” When we hold our breath or contract the diaphragm the brain gets worried, so to speak. I don’t really care for neurofeedback for most things – I consider it a last resort. Elmer always de-emphasized the use of equipment saying that it’s the person discovering what’s “under the hood” (in their own bodies) that matters.

 Here is a general article about ADHD and sleep that may be of interest:

Elmer Green was most interested in developing and making available a process that would first help people with physical problems. He and his wife, Alyce, used simple tools such as thermistors to measure temperatures in the hands in order to help manage (and cure) migraine headaches and high blood pressure. The prime goal though, of this kind of feedback of physical information was to give people a way to experience control of involuntary processes that had been considered completely out of our conscious reach. Elmer and Alyce also knew that developing this kind of self-reliance was empowering and could lead to a life-changing new sense of self like the one that “Gary” gained in Jean Millay’s story.

Although simple, effective biofeedback procedures that emphasize self-reliance still exist, there has been an expansion into more complex and expensive treatments that are dependent on other resources. Drugs have become the main way for dealing with ADD and ADHD, and biofeedback has been increasingly elaborated into new forms of neurofeedback that demand fancy machines and costly protocols. WINN will continue to present information about the earlier discoveries and to say more about the changes in higher states of consciousness that they produced.

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