Electroencephalographic Biofeedback -
Alternative Treatment for Adult ADD and Teen ADD/ADHD
Until recently, medication (e.g., Ritalin) has been the only effective treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD). However, a series of case and controlled group studies examining the effects of
electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback have reported improved attention and behavioral control as well as
gains on tests of intelligence and academic achievement. EEG bio- feedback was determined to be an effective
treatment of ADHD and has emerged as a non- pharmacological way to approach this mental disorder. Testing
confirms that EEG biofeedback produces patient outcomes equivalent to those obtained with stimulant drugs.
Significant health concerns exist regarding the current treatment of ADHD by the use of stimulants. Side effects,
lack of compliance, and the fact that stimulant medications cannot be given late in the day limit the benefits largely
to school hours. Also, while stimulants improve behavior and attention, less of an effect has been noted on
academic and social performance. Thus, EEG biofeedback is a welcome alternative to traditional treatments.
In electroencephalographic (EEG) training for ADHD, the trainer presents information to the child about what is
happening at that moment in his cortex. He is seeing his own brain waves misbehave, and he tries to get them
under control. Gradually, he is able to do so. When that happens, his sleep may improve. His bedwetting may
stop. His headaches, if any, may disappear. He may no longer explode in temper tantrums. He may start reading
better, and listening better, and his school behavior may become less disruptive. His math grades may improve
significantly. His handwriting may improve. Speech may improve. Once the child's brain has learned to regulate
itself better by the use of EEG biofeedback, it continues to use that skill, just as other children's brains do
EEG biofeedback has been shown to be helpful with specific learning disabilities (LD) as well. Often the same
training protocol is appropriate for both ADHD and LD. In addition, EEG biofeedback is sometimes used for relief
from chronic pain, hypertension, or digestive problems.
EEG biofeedback is a painless, non-invasive technique that monitors the body's
unconscious and automatic functions such as blood pressure, or heart rate, and
"feeds back" the information to the ADHD child in a concrete form such as through
sounds or a graph on a computer screen. By seeing how different behaviors and
thoughts change the feedback, the child learns to regulate these functions on his
own to improve functioning.
EEG biofeedback uses an electroencephalograph (EEG), a device that detects and records the electrical activity
in the brain, called brainwaves. The EEG monitors and records the different brainwaves of the child, who learns
how to increase or reduce certain types of brainwaves.
Electroencephalographs of ADHD children show a brainwave pattern that is different from those of children
without ADHD. ADHD kids exhibit more theta waves (related to sleep or daydreaming) and less beta waves
(related to thinking activities). The goal of EEG biofeedback is to reverse the ratio of theta waves and beta waves
by increasing the awake and alert state of the ADHD child. Proponents of this technique believe that bringing
theta and beta brainwave closer to healthier patterns leads to a reduction of ADHD symptoms.
EEG electrodes placed on the head detect the different types of brainwaves produced by the patient and send
the information to a data recorder. Every time the desired brainwave is identified, the biofeedback apparatus
sends a signal to the ADHD child - auditory or visual feedback - to encourage the production of similar
brainwaves. The auditory or visual feedbacks vary from simple sounds to elaborate computer graphics made to
resemble video games where generating the wanted brainwave adds excitement to the action and brings some
kind of rewards.
Electroencephalographic biofeedback trains the ADHD kid to alter his brain functioning so that he daydreams less
and pays attention more (through the use of special software and computer enhanced techniques which allow him
to monitor his progress in a video game format).
One of my adolescent clients who tried this couldn't sit still for his EEG biofeedback
sessions at first. After about the third session, he began to enjoy the biofeedback
method. By about his tenth session he was more attentive at home and less
oppositional. Within six-months his reading and math scores had progressed one
grade level. He continues to make grade-appropriate progress in school, but does
have occasional setbacks. He goes back periodically for booster EEG biofeedback
EEG biofeedback is a very cool adjunct to the implementation of appropriate parenting strategies for ADHD kids.
However, it should not be used in lieu of these strategies or as a sole treatment modality.