Think of neurofeedback as weight training for the brain. If you want to build up your muscles, you go to a gym and start an exercise routine. With neurofeedback, you go to a training center and build up your brain so that you can concentrate better. For a child, it’s like going to gymnastics or piano lessons.
The procedure is simple. Sensors are placed on the scalp, held in place with a special gel. Fine wires from these sensors conduct electricity from the child’s head to a recording instrument that registers the different frequencies and amplitudes of the brainwaves produced in the area of the brain being monitored. Changes in the patterns show whether the person is paying attention and sitting still (or more accurately, suppressing the impulse to move.) In an EEG, the brainwave tracing is shown as a wavy line. In neurofeedback training, the computer converts the brain waves into game-like displays, a fish moving through a maze, puzzles going together, or images like a rising sun. The colorful displays are paired with sounds to give auditory feedback as well. The child’s attentiveness controls what happens on the screen. Children can play the game only by controlling their level of concentration.
If the child’s mind wanders, as it does when he “spaces out” in class, the colors on the monitor screen change or the action stops. The better he sustains his attention, the faster the activity on the screen changes. With most neurofeedback systems, the child also gets points, which can be converted into rewards.
The games can be adjusted so that children can be successful no matter what level of concentration they begin with. They have fun. They may be doing things such as playing basketball on the screen ( the opponent scores if the child’s attention wanders) or moving a fish through a maze. The child feels successful and, at the same time, he is altering his brain physiology. Just as an athlete uses weight training to build up his muscles needed for the sport, the child is exercising and producing beneficial changes in his brain (settling down, attending, concentrating), which will help him pay attention in school and elsewhere.
With neurofeedback the child is exercising the nerve pathways that control attention and mental processing. As these neural pathways are exercised, children develop a sense of what concentration feels like, and they get excited about it. After practicing these exercises over a period of time, the pathways involved in attention and learning seem to work more efficiently. This enhanced brain activity becomes a natural part of the child’s functioning. (For more information about neurofeedback for A.D.D., See Resources for A.D.D.”)