Can Neurofeedback Help Treat ADHD?

Written by Kimberly Holland | Published on January 22, 2014

Neurofeedback and ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood behavioral disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 11 percent of American children have been diagnosed with ADHD.

An ADHD diagnosis can be difficult. It’s a complex disorder that can affect many aspects of a child’s daily life and behavior, which is especially why early treatment is so important. 

Traditional ADHD Treatment

Some children with ADHD can learn to cope with the disorder by adopting simple behavioral changes that make their daily lives easier. Changes to an environment can also help reduce stimulation and ease symptoms related to ADHD. Some children need stronger, more targeted treatment. In such cases, doctors often prescribe stimulant medication, such as Adderall or Ritalin. Stimulant medication actually has a calming effect on children with ADHD and is the most common treatment for ADHD today. 

Side Effects of Stimulant Medication

Notwithstanding their popularity, stimulants come with a whole host of side effects that may make them a less ideal option for some children. It’s important to consider the side effects if you’re thinking about treating your child’s ADHD with medication.

Common side effects include:

  • stunted or delayed growth
  • difficulty gaining and retaining weight
  • decreased appetite
  • sleep problems
  • heart problems, in very rare cases

What Does ADHD Do to the Brain?

For a child without ADHD, the act of concentrating on a task helps speed the brain’s activity, rendering it more efficient. The contrary is true for a child with ADHD – inversely, concentration makes a child with ADHD more distracted and therefore less efficient. That’s why simply trying to help a child pay attention isn’t the most effective solution. The idea behind neurofeedback is to help children with ADHD learn how to make their brain be attentive when it needs to be. 

How Neurofeedback Can Help

Neurofeedback training can help children learn to make their brains more active when they need it to be. This is especially important for school and work environments.

During a neurofeedback session, a doctor will instruct your child to focus on certain tasks. Sensors and monitors attached to your child’s body will show how their body is reacting. At the same time, your child can monitor their own brain wave patterns. Doctors believe that if a child is able to see their brain’s activity while they’re focusing on a particular task, they can learn to control their brain activity more effectively.

How Neurofeedback Affects Behaviors

In theory, children can learn to keep their brain active while concentrating or preforming a task by using the biofeedback sensors as guides. During a therapy session, they can use the monitors to see which methods help their brain the most. Then, when they’re no longer attached to the sensors, they can use these same strategies to help focus and perform better. In some studies, children that used neurofeedback showed improved control and behavior.

Not Widely Accepted Yet

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a combination of both medication and behavioral therapy to treat most children with ADHD. However, behavioral therapy for ADHD isn’t widely accepted as a stand-alone treatment. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that neurofeedback cannot be recommended as an alternative to medication use in ADHD. Medication is still preferred by most doctors and healthcare experts.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Each child is unique, and each child’s journey with ADHD is, too. What works for one child with ADHD may not work for another. That is why you should work with your child’s doctor to find a treatment plan—whether or not it includes neurofeedback —that works well, treats your child’s symptoms, and helps them live a healthy daily life. As more research is conducted, neurofeedback may hold more promise. For now, ask your child’s doctor about it, how it might help your child, and if your child is a good candidate.

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