Neurofeedback at Early Links
By Chloe Duncan
We hear a lot about regulation in the early intervention and NDIS worlds, be it emotion regulation or regulation of challenging behaviour. Parents, caregivers, and teachers of children and young people who are struggling with regulation have a really good understanding of its importance. Many therapies support regulation in children, young people, and adults alike. Here’s one you may not have heard of yet.
What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback uses real-time EEG information to show clients what’s happening in their brains. Clients play games on a computer using only their brain waves, training (through reward) their brains to strengthen helpful pathways and balance out brain activity for – you guessed it – maximum regulation.
Who could benefit?
Many people can benefit from neurofeedback training which can provide improvements in focus, reduced distractibility, improved impulse control and executive functioning skills, and positive improvements in behaviour. People with diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, anxiety, depression, PTSD, developmental trauma, addiction, sleep disorders (the list goes on) have used and found neurofeedback beneficial. It can even help to treat seizures, migraines, traumatic brain injuries, and to help peak performance athletes reach their best.
Neurofeedback in practice
For a young person with ADHD who struggles to focus on their learning and important tasks at home, neurofeedback can train their brain to focus and attend. Effects have been found to be similar to those of stimulant medications but, better still, the effects of neurofeedback can be long lasting, continuing after treatment ends.
Another young person who is unable to engage in class as they are regularly dysregulated and sent home after to behavioural outbursts might be able to reach a new level of regulation through neurofeedback. This may allow them to stay in class for longer periods, benefiting from increased learning and opportunities to form positive relationships with peers and teachers.
What does it entail?
Neurofeedback requires equipment and computer screens, so sessions are held in clinic. They are generally held weekly for a minimum of 20 weeks, and usually run for about 45 minutes. This type of therapy involves attaching sensors to the participants scalp with a sticky paste, so they need to be comfortable with this type of touch, and with sitting still enough for the sensors to stay put. Once everything is in place, they watch a game or video on a computer screen, while their brain is rewarded (through sounds and picture) when it makes more of certain types of brain activity, and less of others.
Neurofeedback can take some trial and error as there is still so much unknown about the human brain. We work to find the right spots on the scalp to train for each person (with the corresponding brain area), the right brain activity to reward, and the right length of time to train. We monitor progress by tracking key symptoms or difficulties the participant is experiencing, looking for positive changes.
How does Neurofeedback work?
Neurofeedback is based on the principals of reward-based conditioning and neural plasticity. Reward-based conditioning means when we find something rewarding, we will be more likely to do more of it in the future. Neural plasticity is the understanding that the brain can change and adapt in helpful ways.
What does the research say?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most well researched and evidence-based applications of neurofeedback, which is supported as an intervention by the Australian Psychological Society and American Psychological Association. Research has also begun to find it helpful for people with autism spectrum disorders, developmental trauma, and many of the other diagnoses and difficulties mentioned above.
Chat to your Early Links therapists or key worker about whether neurofeedback could be a useful addition to therapies for you or your child or young person.
Some helpful videos with an overview of neurofeedback:
For those who’d like to learn a bit more about the technical aspects of neurofeedback:
Arns, M., de Ridder, S., Strehl, U., Breteler, M., & Coenen, A. (2009). Efficacy of Neurofeedback Treatment in ADHD: The Effects on Inattention, Impulsivity and Hyperactivity: A Meta-Analysis. Clinical EEG and Neuroscience, 40(3), 180–189. https://doi.org/10.1177/155005940904000311
Arns, M., Heinrich, H., & Strehle, U. (2014). Evaluation of neurofeedback in ADHD: The long and winding road. Biological Psychology, 95, 108-115. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2013.11.013
Hodgson, K., Hutchinson, A. D., & Denson, L. (2014). Nonpharmacological Treatments for ADHD: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Attention Disorders, 18(4), 275–282. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054712444732
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44 Bulwer Street, Maitland, NSW 2320
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