Attention Deficit Disorder: Using the Brain, Not Medication to Self-Regulate

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

By Steven C. Kassel, MFT, BCIA-c

The decade of the brain, dubbed by then President George Bush senior, brought us incredible insights into how the brain works. This is especially important in looking at different factors which may go into causing the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD); genetics, head injury, low brain wave arousal, slowed brain blood flow and decreased glucose metabolism. Regardless of the cause, when we look at the ADD brain with modern electro-physiological instruments such as the Quantitative Electroencephalogram (qEEG) we can compare one child’s brain during reading, math and other attentional tasks to a database of normal children. Typically, ADD with and without hyperactivity stems from deficits in brain information processing usually in the left frontal region of the brain.

In the ADD child’s developing brain, cells which normally learn to interface with one another and take on more and more activity do not take on the proper working matrix. This may happen for a variety of reasons and has no bearing on intelligence. These children have difficulty arousing brain cell stimulation in important areas of the brain that need to “rev-up” to succeed in simple tasks such as sitting in a chair while classroom stimulus is low. This under-arousal of fast frequency brain wave activity is also paired with a dominance of slow brainwave activity thereby making it more difficult for the child to integrate sensory input from the world with motor (body) reflexes. When given certain medications such as amphetamine, the brain cells increase in activity, working at a faster frequency, to communicate efficiently with on another. The child can now tend to the environment properly and pay attention. Unfortunately, this stimulation is short lived and may have side effects about which some parents are uncomfortable.

Brainwave biofeedback, or Neurofeedback, is a specialized field of biofeedback therapy with almost 35 years of research and clinical application for treatment of ADD, depression, epilepsy, fibromyalgia and head injuries. Neurofeedback has been utilized to successfully treat children and adults with ADD and developmental disorders in areas such as reading, writing, spelling and math. More specifically, EEG electrodes are used to measure brainwave activity from the scalp over the part of the brain showing the deficit in processing and the child can play a video game by maintaining the desired “mix” of brainwaves. The child sits still and does NOT use his or hands to manipulate the game, thereby exercising brain cells and learning to pay attention. Once these neurons begin to work properly and network together attention improves and behavioral problems decrease. Changes generally stay that way throughout the life of the child and into old age.

Steven C. Kassel, MFT is in private practice in Santa Clarita as a Marriage and Family Therapist and Biofeedback Therapist. He has been practicing in the Santa Clarita Valley since 1985 and is past-president of the Biofeedback Society of California. He can be reached at 661 259-3704 or at Visit his website at