A different brain:

Brain activity in the form of brainwaves can be recorded by an Electroencephalograph (EEG) sensor. An EEG sensor only records activity from the brain and does not give out any impulse towards the brain. Research on EEG patterns has shown that brainwave patterns may show a slower or a faster rhythm, and that these different rhythms are associated with different states of alertness. Research has also shown that people with ADHD typically have a different brainwave pattern in an area of the brain called the frontal brain, an area in the front of the brain behind the forehead. The frontal brain takes care of tasks like switching the brain on in order to pay attention, maintaining attention, getting tasks finished, time management, getting organized, and prioritizing. Brain scans can look at the structure of the brain, and also how it functions. All this research has been important in realizing that the brain of children with ADHD is different. In other words careless mistakes are not because of laziness and the impulsivity of snatching a doll away from another child is not being mean. Children with ADHD don’t “do it on purpose” to make careless mistakes, forget their homework, and miss the school bus because they were not keeping track of time.

Scientists know that different brainwaves represent different states of alertness of the brain. Some brainwaves represent being asleep, others when drowsiness and others focus. Scientists have found that people with ADHD have alterations in their brainwave patterns compared to people without ADHD. The most frequent place where they show these differences is specifically in the frontal brain, which is precisely the attention, organization and executive functioning part of the brain. People with ADHD typically have an increase in drowsy waves (also called theta waves) and a decrease in attention waves (also called beta waves). This makes it very difficult to pay attention, remain focused, and get work done.


How does this affect work throughout the school career, K-12 grade?

Let’s take a moment to think of circle time in kindergarten and what this means. When the kindergarten teacher calls out to the class to gather up for circle time, children come and sit around her. Then she picks up a 3 feet tall ‘Gingerbread Man’ book and starts to read. What happens right then? Right then, the typical children simply switch their brains on, their fontal brain becomes activated with beta waves. This happens like an automatic switch, just because the teacher has started reading. For children with ADHD this is not the case, there is no automatic switch. The frontal brain, specifically the beta waves are not so active that the brain just switches on and focuses. Switching the brain on for student with ADHD is not automatic, it takes work and effort.

As the teacher continues to read the story about the ‘Gingerbread man’ what goes on in the classroom? Typical children, want to know the story, so they keep their brains on. This also happens automatically, for as long as the teacher is reading because she adapts the length of time she reads to the typical student. Maintaining focus for a student with ADHD is difficult, he or she will become distracted and tired, as it is difficult to maintain high beta brainwave amplitudes overtime.
This example also applies to listening to the teacher in middle school or following a lecture in college. As all students progress through the grades, expectations in all areas including attention span, organization and time management will continue to increase adapting to the typical student’s ability. Students with ADHD will continue to mature in these areas, yet discrepancies usually persist with typical students, which lead to continued challenges and frustration.


Neurofeedback to increase attention?

There are different types of neurofeedback, also called EEG biofeedback. Here the focus is on the educational approach that aims to support an increase in beta (attention) brainwaves, and decrease the theta (drowsiness) brainwaves.

A neurofeedback sensor, or EEG sensor, picks up beta (attention) brainwaves and theta (drowsy) brainwaves. As the student looks at a screen he or she receives feedback to how he or she is paying attention on an exercise. The student trains to increase attention brainwaves (theta) and suppress drowsiness brainwaves (theta) to support an increase in attention. Repeat practice aims to increased ease to get the brain going (or switch on), and to keep it on.

Neurofeedback works through the principal of brain plasticity, which has been thoroughly researched. Brain plasticity is learning and reshaping of the brain, through input of the environment, here the neurofeedback exercises during the repeated neurofeedback lessons. As the brain of the student learns how to increase their beta waves and decrease their theta waves, they are reshaping their brain and learning through this phenomenon of brain plasticity.


Interesting research in the field of neurofeedback and from Dr. Steiner

We have assembled some of Dr. Steiner’s on-going research for parents and students who might be interested in learning more about research in the area of neurofeedback. At this time she has multiple manuscripts that have been accepted for publication or are under the process of peer-review.

Click here for her pilot study conducted in middle schools
Click here to read a Tufts Now commentary on Dr. Steiner’s study in 19 elementary schools
Click here for a preliminary results from the elementary school efficacy study.
Click here to learn about Dr. Steiner’s calm breathing and relaxation program.
More to come!

Other articles below are by internationally-recognized leading researchers in the field.

Click here for a 6 month follow-up study by Gevensleben et al., 2010.
Click here to read about a 2009 meta-analysis of the effects of neurofeedback on children with ADHD conducted by Arns, de Ridder, Strehl, Breteler, and Coenen
Click here to learn about Neurofeedback and basic learning theory- a review article by Sherlin et al., 2011; full text
Click here to read about a position paper on Neurofeedback by Sherlin, Arns, Lubar, & Sokhadze, 2010