Can we still rescue this school year?

This is the time of year when many parents whose children have struggled with school start to either despair or panic.  Most parents will say: “We’ve done everything we can; we’ve talked to him (or her), we’ve encouraged him, we’ve pushed him as hard as we can, we’ve even tried tutoring and counseling, hoping for the best, and nothing seems to have gotten better.  The school is talking about holding him back and/or putting him in a special class”.

 Most of the time, as I inquire further into the child’s problems, I will hear that he (or she) is having significant problems academically and can’t seem to focus or retain what he’s learned at home, or is having lots of behavior problems at school, lacks confidence, is isolated… or all of the above.  

This question actually has two parts to it.  For the first part: No, it is definitely not too late to get help for this school year.  It is at the end of the school year that the evaluations and decisions are made as to what is best for the child in the coming year and we are definitely not at that point yet.  I have worked with many teachers, and I am consistently told that if they see significant improvement in academics and/or behavior before the end of the year, it can definitely effect their decisions.

Parental attitude toward this question is also critically important to their child.  Your decision to accept these problems as unavoidable and/or to give up on this school year, as opposed to not giving up and continuing to find the solution to your child’s difficulties, makes an indelible impression on how your child sees themselves and their approach to solving problems.  If you take the first option, things will probably get worse for them as they will sense you’re giving up, and they will too.  They will also think less is expected of them and they may put forth less effort.  If you choose the second option, and ground that for them firmly in the fact that the problems do not represent their true self or abilities, and that they are worth these extra efforts to solve the problems, then you have the opposite effect and their self esteem and effort climbs. So does your chances of final success for the school year. 

The second part of the question regards whether or the not the proper underlying cause of the problem is being addressed.  While tutoring and counseling definitely have their place, the problems mentioned here are more likely stemming from ADHD.  Furthermore, the effectiveness of tutoring, counseling, and many other interventions will be significantly reduced if the underlying ADHD is not treated first.  This is a disorder that many parents reject testing for and if present, treating, because they understandably fear what they think is the unavoidable use of medication with its undesirable side-effects and rigors.  There is, however, a much preferable alternative to this scenario, and that is neurofeedback.  

Neurofeedback is an effective, drug and side-effect free procedure in which the individual learns to retrain the attention and/or impulse control mechanisms of the brain, alleviating the condition.  Once training is completed, no further treatment is necessary. 

In conclusion: No, if the parents don’t give up on the school year (or their child), and the true underlying cause of the problem is identified and corrected, it is definitely not too late  to save this school year, and the decision to do so is critical for your child.

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April 11, 2012 at 12:08 am Leave a comment

Successful Treatment Planning for Attention Deficit Disorder

If you, your child’s teacher, or someone else significant suspects your child may have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD or AD/HD), by this time of  the school year you really need to get something going to help them as soon as possible.  What is really needed is to first, find out definitively if it is really there, and secondly, get started immediately with a good plan, before it is too late to salvage the school year.  

Schools vary widely in their ability and willingness to assist the parent in this matter. My brother is an elementary school teacher, and a good one, as are many of his peers.  However, there is a wide range in the ability of teachers, as well as schools, in assessing and working with children with this disorder.  

Some teachers are judgmental in their opinions regarding ADD.  They may believe a child willfully misbehaves.  Everyone knows a “dangerously” little amount about ADD.  School personnel are often more objective than parents, as they can compare the child to hundreds of children in their professional experience.  However, teachers listen to the popular press, have family members with ADD, glean information from other sources, and often base their opinion on what they have heard, and not on the true facts.  With good intentions, school personnel may believe or imply to parents that bad parenting, low ability, and or emotional problems are behind the difficulties.  Some teachers have been known to tell parents not to treat the problem, rather, just to employ harsher punishments, and that indeed is a very bad answer.  Finally, most schools are often very slow to actually do any testing (6 months to a year is not at all uncommon).  Furthermore, the results are frequently too vague, yielding results such as “learning disorders” or “learning disabilities”.

 The proper thing to do, therefore, is to have your child tested by an outside, independent professional.  There are two types of testing, those that based solely on symptoms, observed or reported (the most common form of testing), and those that based on testing the actual source of the problems (a specific brain function), through EEG-analysis.  As there are other problems which can cause ADD like symptoms, it is essential to test right at the source of the problem:  the brain (EEG-analysis).

Medication and Neurofeedback (EEG-analysis and treatment) are the only methods of treatment which actually address the underlying cause of the problem (a minor misalignment in the brain).  Medication is usually effective (unfortunately, teachers will often advise that this is the only answer). However, possible side effects and the necessity of the life long use of these drugs are often understandably very discouraging to parents.  

Neurofeedback is a drug and side-effect free, painless procedure in which the child learns to re-train the relevant attention and/or behavioral mechanisms of the brain, alleviating the condition.   Once training is complete, no further treatment is necessary.  It is an excellent alternative to the often dreaded medication scenario.

February 15, 2012 at 1:23 am Leave a comment

ADHD Basics

ADHD (ADD) is an abbreviation for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  There is some confusion with the initials and names used for this disorder.  ADHD actually means Attention Deficit, with or without Hyperactivity, Disorder.  Some people think that attention and hyperactivity (and/or impulsivity) need to be present in order for the disorder to be there, and this is a mistake.  There are actually three sub-types of this disorder: Primarily Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive (either or both), and the Combined Type (all three).  When speaking with true professionals who specialize in this disorder, these misconceptions and misunderstandings should not be a problem.

ADHD is one of the most common childhood behavior disorders.  Of all children referred to mental health professionals, about 35% are referred for ADHD – more than any other condition.  It is estimated that approximately 9% of all children are troubled with this disorder. 

The first step to take in determining if this disorder is present is to do the proper testing, usually, once again, by an independent professional.  Frequently, it is very unfortunate that medication and treatment are prescribed based solely on a parent’s or anothers opinion or observation.  While these may be well intentioned, they are usually not based on the proper criteria or knowledge.  In the cases where testing is actually being done, it is based largely only on symptoms.  While symptoms are important, and indeed are the true “real world” problems, there are other causes than ADHD that can bring about ADHD-like symptoms.  The only way to determine if ADHD is truly present, in conjunction with the symptoms, is to look at the organ in question, which in this case is the brain.  This is done through brain monitoring (EEG analysis), which is a painless non-invasive test.  This is the only objective way to determine if the disorder is present.

There are basically three forms of treatment.  Therapy or cognitive-behavioral treatment: These forms of treatment mostly offer support in learning to live with the disorder.  Since ADHD is a neurological disorder, and not an emotional or psychologically based problem, these treatment options are quite limited in treating the disorder.   Medication: Usually effective in treating the disorder, however, there are frequently unwanted side effects, and, since the medication is only effective while it is in the bloodstream, the medication needs to be taken for life.  Neurofeedback:  An effective, side-effect free treatment in which the child retrains the underlying mechanisms that cause the disorder.  Once treatment is complete, no further sessions are necessary.

Many parents avoid testing and/or treatment for ADHD because they understandably fear the side-effects and need for lifetime use of what they mistakenly think is the only remedy to the problem, medication.  There is, fortunately, an alternative to this scenario.  Neurofeedback is a proven, painless, and effective solution to the problem of ADHD,which opens for the person the opportunities they deserve for a lifetime of learning, growing, and relating well with others.

January 26, 2012 at 1:57 am Leave a comment

Two Distinctly Different Paths for Treatment of ADHD: Neurofeedback or Medication

Neurofeedback (EEG-Biofeedback) and medication are the two most common forms of treatment fo ADHD (ADD).  Both are successful in treating these disorders in a large majority of cases.  There are, however, significant differences in the ways these treatments work, the potential side effects of their use, the length of treatment necessary, and importantly, the lessons learned by the child of how to correct personal problems. 

Most of the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD are dervied from some form of stimulant or antidepressant.  Most of these medications carry the FDA’s “Black Box Warning” Labels, and should be used with caution.  These warnings refer to the possibility of serious cardiovascular side effets, as well as the possible suppression of children’s growth, and heightened risk for psychosis, bi-polar illness, and aggression. 

In addition to these problems, this class of medications is also associated with the following serious potential side effects: weight loss in children, overstimulation of the central nervous system, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, tremors, headaches, and tics or Tourettes Syndrome.

Now, let us take a look at how these different treatments work.  The medications contain artifical chemicals, which increase neurotransmitter levels in the brain, allowing the brain to function better, thus alleviating the condition.  As these chemicals are artificial, and foreign to the body, they may cause unfavorable reactions in the brain, and therefore brings about the aforementioned negative side effects.

Neurofeedback trains the brain to funciton faster through a highly specialized type of exercise.  As the brain learns to function faster, it naturally increases its production of neurotransmitters, and the brain functions better, thus treating the condition.  The end result is the same in both forms of treatment… with one very big difference.  As neurofeedback does not introduce anything unnatural into the brain, and rather trains the brain to function better through its own natural mechanisms (i.e. it learns or teaches itself to improve), it produces none of these side effects.  As vulnerable as children are, the last thing we want to do is expose them to these unnecessary dangers. 

Finally, length of treatment is another big difference.  Medication is a lifetime process, as it is only effective while it is in the bloodstream.  Therefore, no amount of medication will ever produce a lasting effect.  The medication must be continually taken to treat the condition, with once again, the continuing potential for these serious side effects and health dangers.  Neurofeedback, on the other hand, is a “one time” treatment for this disorder.  It is a far simpler solution, once treatment is complete, no further sessions are necessary.

Finally, there is a subtle lesson being taught to the child about how to deal with life’s problems. It is a lesson that will assume major importance as the child grows older.  The lesson is “Do I take a substance to be smarter, get my work done more quickly, and be more popular- getting along better with others… or do I improve my capacities, performance, and relationships with others through working on and improving myself?”  The abuse of these medications is already growing steadily in schools.  As the child grows older (and, unfortunately, this is happening at a younger and younger age) they will be presented with increasingly more dangerous substances to deal with essentially (if not exactly) the same questions.  In many ways, the stage is already being set by the way in which parents choose for their child to deal with their ADHD.

Once neurofeedback treatment is completed, no further treatment is necessary, and the child learns a healthy lesson about the right way to strengthen their abilities.  With neurofeedback, there are no side effects, the treatment is a one-time process, and the child avoids learning a potentially dangerous lesson, and instead learns a healthy one of self-reliance and self-improvement.  Neurofeedback is an effective, drug free, painless procedure in which the child learns to retain the attention mechanisms of their brain , alleviating the condition. 

If you, or someone you know, is interested in learning more about Neurofeedback or would like to schedule an evaluation, please contact Dr. Ferrari at Alta Neuro-Imaging (Placentia, CA).

December 9, 2011 at 12:20 am Leave a comment

Homework Problems… And Solutions

In my many years of experience helping children and parents with academic and behavioral problems, one of the most common issues is difficulty with homework.  The purpose of homework is to allow the child further opportunities to independently master their coursework, and perhaps allow the parent to become involved in what is happening for their child at school.

If homework is often a problem for a child, several confounding factors may have developed which add significantly to the problem, in a cumulative fashion.  Past assignments that need to be made up (undone or never turned in) and uncompleted class work that is sent home can add much to the burden.  Additionally, with homework being a recurring problem, your child may have developed the behaviors of “hiding” homework or being deceptive about what or when something is due.

A typical “problem homework” scenario may include some or all of these patterns. After much cajoling and struggling, the parent gets the child to begin their homework.  Then ensues in long battles that last multiple hours, involving countless distractions, struggles (and phone calls?) to understand the material and directions which unfortunately, the inattentive child did not get straight in class, and outbursts of frustration and anger occur from both parties.  The outcome of this homework session is (along with hopefully some learning), exhaustion, hurt feelings, distrust, lowered self-esteem, and anger.  Does this sound familiar…?

What’s very important to understand , and to correct this scenario, is that the child may have Attention Deficit Disorder.  With the ADHD child, they cannot stop this from happening; it’s part of the uncorrected disorder.  However, often teachers, other students, and parents lose site of this, and blame the child.  The result is a child who feels very badly about themselves, and gives up, or rebels, or both.

These daily episodes are very damaging to family dynamics.  In addition to the harm done to the parent-child relationship, there are other significant consequences.  Other childrens’ needs go unattended (not to mention the parent’s), important tasks around the house go undone (dinner anyone?), and last, but definitely not least, the parent’s own relationship suffers as blaming, overwork, and loss of quality time together are also casualties.

Remember what we said homework was for and was supposed to be like in the first paragraph? The homework experience with the ADHD child is not any kind of “Building Up”… it is a “Tearing Down” experience.

Fortunately, this can be changed, without the side-effects and rigors of medication.  Neurofeedback is an effective, drug free, painless procedure in which the child learns to retrain the attention mechanisms of their brain, alleviating the condition.  Once training is completed, no further treatment is necessary.

November 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm Leave a comment

Getting the Most Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Having been in the field for over 16 years, helping children and parents with school related problems, and also having worked closely with teachers, I have learned a few things about parent-teacher conferences.  Conference time is just around the corner, and for some it may already be here.  These conferences should be seen as a rich opportunity to build understanding and communication between the home and school.  Due to budget shortfalls and increasing multiculturalism, teachers are under pressure and overworked.  Many parents are also pressed for time, have lingering negative impressions from their own school years, and are apprehensive about what will be discussed during the conference, particularly if their child is struggling.  What follows are some suggestions to help make the conference go better:

After you received the notice,  schedule your conference as soon as possible within the allotted time blocks (you’ll get better choices).  Arrive on time or you’ll forfeit important parts of your allocated time frame and miss key information points.  Thank the teacher for their time.  As it does for you, appreciation goes a long way to help both you and your child.  Do not bring toddlers or babies as they are too big of a distraction.  Leave your personal problems at home, unless they directly affect your child’s school experience.

Bring prioritized questions with you to the conference, and make sure they are not already covered in the informational packets sent home.  Prior to the meeting, discuss it with your child.  Find out what they like or dislike, as well as what they struggle or excel at.  Ask the teacher what they think would make the school day go better.  Some good questions are, ” Has my child completed assignments regularly?” and “How does my child handle taking tests?”.  Other good questions may include, “Have you noticed any changes in my child’s behavior during the year?”, “What areas academically, and in terms of attitude, do they need extra help in at home?”, and “What is my child like during the day?”.

If your child is struggling academically and/or with their behavior, or if they seem isolated, you or their teacher may bring this issue up (which is a good thing to talk about).  As parents, we can often be defensive and in denial to these problems, and their possible causes.  Remember, both you and teacher are there as your child’s advocates.  Be open to this discussion, as it can only help your child.  Often these problems are caused by ADHD (Attention Deficit with/without Hyperactivity Disorder) or other learning disabilities.  Many parents, believing that medication is the only treatment for this disorder, avoid the appropriate testing and/or treatment because they understandably fear the side effects and rigors associated with the medication.  There is, however, an effective alternative to this scenario.

One alternative method to medication is Neurofeedback, a type of biofeedback that utilizes EEG to provide information on brain signaling activity and allows for re-training that lasts for life.  This  form of treatment mitigates the symptoms of ADHD in a beneficial and side-effect-free manner by re-focusing the thought processes of brain. 

For additional information pertaining to Neurofeedback therapy for ADHD or various other disorders, please contact the director of the Alta Neuro-Imaging: Orange County, CA location.

October 14, 2011 at 1:49 am 1 comment

Students Who Can Really Benefit From Help at the Start of the School Year

As a psychologist specializing in helping students improve their academic and behavioral experience in school for over 16 years, I have come to identify certain types of students who benefit the most from specialized types of help.  These are students that can make big time improvements at the start of the academic year.

The first type is the student who struggles significantly with homework (which icnreases in amount and  difficulty each year).  This is usually a problem with attention span, task completion, and/or organization.  Problems such as homework taking too long, not being completed, not being turned in, or not being brought home, all fall into this category.

A second type is the child who has to work too hard to get what success they can.  Poor grades and difficulty with testing are typical for this child.  These are children who often can do OK when the work  is done “one-on-one”, but are too distracted in group settings such as the classroom or group activity.

The third type is the student who has significant difficulties with his or her behavior.  They may be getting into trouble frequently, and as a result may even be getting blamed for things that they don’t do.  This behavior may make it hard to make friends (or the right kind of friends) and lead to feelings of isolation.  They can often be held in or punished at recess (further isolation), and may begin to believe that they are troublemakers, or “bad” kids.  The resulting damage to self esteem from this, and the other above patterns, can shape self-fulfilling self-images that are very sad to see develop.

Unfortunately, it may be difficult for parents to see these problems.  They may feel that these problems for their child are “not that bad” or “I had the same problems when I was a child” (do we really want them to carry the same burdens?), or “they will probably grow out of it.”  As parents, we need to be proactive regarding our children’s challenges and protect them for these obstacles, they will learn how to treat themselves from how we treat them with their difficulties.

As we mentioned earlier, many of these difficulties are caused by aptitude deficiencies whihc are quite correctable.  Many of the students with these difficulties suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD), either diagnosed or undiagnosed.  Proper testing and/or treatment of this disorder are critical for these children’s well being.  Many parents also resist testing and treatment because they fear the side effects and rigor of what they believe is the only treatment: medication. This is, unfortunately, still a popular misconception.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to this scenario.  Neurofeedback is a proven, effective, drug and side effect free procedure in which the individual retrains the attention mechanisms of the brain, alleviating the condition.  Once treatment is complete, no further training is necessary.

If you would like more information about Neurofeedback, please contact Dr. Ferrari at his Southern California office, Alta Neuro-Imaging Neurofeedback.

September 15, 2011 at 12:24 am Leave a comment

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