The FDA labels are great for parents wanting to improve the quality of food for their families. Certainly, Fruit Loops don’t look like a health food, but some other foods are more deceptive. Good labeling brings all of that to light, allowing a parent to make the right choices for his or her family.
Psychiatric labels, or diagnoses, are not as clear cut. The ADHD label is one of those. It is often applied by teachers or doctors who have full schedules and don’t always have a lot of information about different kinds of attention difficulties. If the diagnosis is inaccurate, it can lead to problems down the line, when the label is used to find treatment solutions.
The information that helps me decide on the right protocol for neurofeedback can also be helpful for parents looking for the best way to help a child struggling with attention issues. It changes the focus to the broader context of the child’s functioning. These possible categories can guide parents in choosing useful ways to intervene.
Sleepy Brain: This child doesn’t look sleepy, but his brain tends to make more “sleepy” or “daydreaming” waves than alert, focused waves. Concentrating on something, especially something boring, quickly taxes his ability to focus. He can be especially creative, often happy, impulsive, distractible and easily bored. He may move perpetually in an attempt to focus.
Overstimulated Brain: This child’s brain doesn’t sort information well or “dial down” information that is irrelevant, creating a sensitivity to light, sound, physical discomfort, and chaos. Emotional meltdowns can happen when the child becomes overwhelmed.
Traumatized Brain: Someone who has experienced an emergency may go into a state of hyperarousal and not be able go back into a relaxed state without help. Triggers are everywhere. It is difficult to pay attention when it feels like harm may come at any moment.
Immature Brain: Children who are the youngest in their class are twice as likely to be labeled ADHD and prescribed stimulant medication. That indicates that some children diagnosed with ADHD may just be slower maturing and need more time to develop the ability to concentrate and stay on task.
Injured Brain: Head bumps happen to most children without lasting harm. Sometimes, though, the injury can be traumatic enough that it impairs the brain’s ability to self-regulate, leading to a host of physical and cognitive issues that don’t fade with time. Other brain injuries can happen before or during birth.
Mental Illness: Mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and others can hijack attention.
Once the source of the attention issue has been determined, the interventions will flow from it. If the child needs more stimulation in order to stay focused, then he will need more motion and variety in any task he will find boring. If the child is overstimulated, then the interventions will be about making things predictable with less environmental stimulus. A child with an immature brain will need support in the moment, but also permission to be “younger” as his brain goes about its own maturation rate. Traumatized brains need calming and safety, while injured brains might need specific therapies to help the brain accommodate the areas of deficit. Attention that is a result of a mental illness many need medical support as well as accommodations and skills training.
If your child has gotten a diagnosis, let is serve you and your child as far as it fits, and as far as it is successful in guiding your interventions. If at some point it stops being useful, then let your own vision who your child is and what he needs be the most important guide.
Bio: Eileen Jacobson received her Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and her Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from BYU. She has had additional training in neurofeedback from the EEG Institute in Woodland Hills, California. She is in private practice in Mapleton, UT. She combines neurofeedback and counseling to address attention, chronic pain/migraine and other mental health issues.