A Mom’s Journey Through ADHD

by Siegfried Othmer | November 27th, 2013

by Lorrie Fisher

EEG Info NewsletterADHD? How could that be? My son would engage in video games for hours with no break in concentration. Robert wasn’t wiggly in class like the other ADHD kids. In fact, I suspected that ADHD might be a myth — an excuse for poor teaching or lack of parental discipline. I couldn’t understand how parents would let anyone put their kids at risk with narcotic drugs, no matter how unruly their behavior. All in all, I held a fairly typical attitude.

Oh, yes, Robert lived in his head. He startled when I would call him back to earth in the middle of a conversation, as if I’d suddenly teleported into his presence. He had frequent bouts of low-grade asthma, digestive reflux, and a specific reading disorder called Irlen Syndrome. (For his brain, the white spaces between words flowed down the page like rivers between the printed words.) Through most of elementary school I acted as a surrogate reader for him. There were nightly crises over homework. Assignments that should have taken 45 minutes stretched into hours. Incentives didn’t work. Many nights I burned the midnight oil because maps needed to be colored or projects assembled and his stamina had drained out long before he could produce all the work due the next morning.

Through this struggle, I knew that Robert was a good kid. Everyone else saw it, too. His heart was good. But the effort left him angry and me frustrated. I’m a tutor and coach, yet I saw no way to make things easier, and his father accused me of weakening Robert by not letting him fail. All along I knew that this was neither a character defect nor lack of intellect. I could see how Robert lost track of life’s details.

Like other ADHD kids, Robert’s things remained where he last put them down. Many new sweaters, books, watches, and other gifts and prized possessions simply disappeared whenever he left the house. If I kept his room minimal, and required frequent organization, he could manage. Within days of turning my back in response to pleas for independence, there would be spoiled food under clothing, under broken toys, under lost school work…. And he would confess that he had no way to think about how to begin to clean it up. The garbage can would be empty, and all the wrappers would be on his bed, the desk, the floor…

Meanwhile his mind was engaged in a cyclone of fascinating ideas and projects that I would rush out to fund, thinking that this would finally be the thing that would cause him to focus! But the same present that was a source of begging and tears would be opened, explored, and quickly abandoned for the next urgent interest.

When Robert turned 15, and was a foot my superior, he rebelled so hard that I had to send him to live with his dad. His dad decided the problem was procrastination and poor self control. While these describe some of the effects of the neurological dysregulation involved in ADHD, they are NOT the causes. It’s very different to tell a person that parts of their brain are acting in a way that impairs organization and focus, than it is to tell them that they have serious character flaws. While it’s bad news to get that your own BRAIN is misbehaving, it’s not nearly as devastating as thinking that your BEING is corrupted. We can better conceive that a brain can be fixed, than how to repair one’s essence. Inability to see a solution causes hopelessness. Hopelessness generates anger and defeat.

The first and foremost life raft for kids and families experiencing ADHD is for them to understand these three critical realities:

· ADHD is a neurological dysregulation that causes behavioral dysregulation in otherwise good people

· ADHD can also cause body dysregulation of respiratory function and of gut function, resulting in asthma and vomiting or other gut disturbances. The child is not a picky eater nor is he a hypochondriac. His brain wiring is having an effect on the body.

· ADHD dysregulation can impair ability to do reading, writing, calculation, or fine motor skills. (It was years after other children could neatly glue their projects together that Robert began to develop the skill.) In this way, abilities can come into alignment with intelligence so that performance and IQ can apparently increase.

During his third year of high school, my son’s pediatrician suggested that he might be depressed and put him on Wellbutrin. In a way, the doctor was right. Robert had reached a point at which high school level work had to be done, and there was no way to outsmart it with brute intellect. His sense of hopelessness became overwhelming.

Sometimes ADHD is mistaken for depression because of the defeat that children report. Having an ADHD brain is the literal equivalent of being one’s own worst enemy. The enemy was lurking inside my son’s skull. Antidepressants can have serious side effects in adolescents. In the small hours of the night, my son phoned me with suicidal thoughts (I pray that no mothers reading this ever have this experience.) I was able to help him because of my professional training in trauma resolution, and because he was willing to stay in communication with me until the nightmare passed.

Suicidal thoughts weren’t the only fallout. Once a straight A honor student, Robert’s grades slid precipitously to C’s and F’s and he developed a tendency to drop courses. Robert is a genius at math. (This showed up early; he was manipulating exponents at age 4.) At this point, he told me he “didn’t care.” His dad gave up. I can’t really blame him; that’s the outcome of misunderstanding the disorder. He began to push Robert to get a GED and minimum wage job thinking that Robert was too immature to even finish high school. Robert was in the process of buying into the idea that HE was worthless.

After Robert returned to live with me, I learned that he had sought refuge in recreational drugging for relief from living with his ideas. Marijuana, LSD, MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), popularly known as ecstasy or, more recently, as Molly. He was even smoking cigarettes. When I moved him across the country I discovered a water pipe by his bed.

This is a very common story among unmedicated, untreated ADHD adolescents. The despair of living with a brain that doesn’t behave can ruin self-esteem, destroy hope, and cause teens to envision a severely compromised life. The pain of disillusionment, during a period of life dedicated to understanding who one is in the world, can be unbearable.

With his return, I had a chance to offer a different point of view. I explained what was happening in terms of how his brain was functioning. Robert, who had always suspected that he had ADHD, was now diagnosed and medicated. He enrolled in summer school and made a high A.

Then the side effects hit. We went through Vyvanse, Adderall, and Dexamphetamine, alternating with refusal to take the drugs because they felt “wooden.” The psychiatrist tried to mitigate the resulting social anxiety with other medication. Robert became overly emotional and irrational. I never knew who was going to emerge from his room — Loving Robert or Hateful Robert.

Finally we discovered EEG Neurofeedback. Somewhere I had read about TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) for depression. Then it occurred to me that there might be another way to treat ADHD. If TMS can change the way a brain is functioning, then why not neurofeedback? After his first EEG Neurofeedback session, Robert noticed an “afterglow.” He reported feeling that neurofeedback might help him without simultaneously hurting him. I believe that is the moment he began to see the possibility of life without ADHD.

The first month Robert returned to live with me, it was important to him that he impress me with his knowledge of recreational drugs. Today, those conversations have disappeared. I understand why: When a brain feels the clarity and focus of regulation that EEG Neurofeedback trains, the mind/body experiences a natural buzz. Through EEG Neurofeedback, the brain is learning self-regulation in a way that is of interest to it. Recreational drugs would disrupt that process, actually causing loss of peace, focus, optimism, and a sense of self-efficacy.

I taught meditation for fifteen years. I was able to recognize that the same loss of interest in drugs often happens to people who dedicate years to the practice of meditation. Neurofeedback just accomplishes that scientifically, and with additional benefits — with neurofeedback, the brain is more specific in its re-learning than with meditation. Robert now says he has no interest in going back to recreational drugs. A few days ago, we were having a conversation about the temptation of medical marijuana when he turns 18. He said to me, “Mom, I did all those drugs because I didn’t have hope. Neurofeedback is fixing me. Now I have hope, so the drugs are not a problem.”

Is he still an impulsive teen? Yes. Teens aren’t famous for long-term planning. But I notice things. He has a to-do list on his desk. I didn’t ask him to write it. It’s sitting in plain view — not buried under piles of disarray. Last week he chose to stop smoking cigarettes and is using an e-cigarette as a means of quitting.

Is he still on ADHD meds? Yes. But about half the dose he was previously taking, and he will continue to cut back until there is no longer a need for medication. And when he is off the medication, it will be much easier to have a focused conversation, a calm mood, and to accomplish a desired task.

There’s another positive recent change: Robert has asked for new clothes so that he can appear more put together to his peers. This shows growing social awareness, which may indicate that he’s less stuck in his head. For a long time Robert had a long list of rules about seams in socks and textures of fabrics and foods. That also seems to be disappearing with EEG Neurofeedback. Now his only sensory rejects are scratchy sweaters and velvet.

About 20 sessions into his treatment, there is now space on his desk. Sometimes laundry gets hung up on the same day. The same watch has been with us for six months. He isn’t missing as many assignments, and had straight A’s at the quarter. His eye contact is also improved. There are still wrappers on his desk and bedside table, but some now make it into the garbage can. One day he completely cleaned his room and arranged everything as neatly as I would.

How does EEG Neurofeedback help an ADHD brain make these changes? In the same way that a therapist listens to words, and a doctor listens to lungs and hearts and gets a read on body chemistry, an EEG Neurofeedback session makes it possible for the brain to observe itself. It’s a peek into the unknown. The leads allow the ADHD brain to communicate the way it is functioning back to itself in a visible way. So for the first time a dysregulated brain has enough information to be able to make its own corrections. Every brain naturally has an interest in optimizing itself!

EEG Neurofeedback allows a well-trained practitioner to bring a brain to more positive states, then that brain automatically fine tunes itself to that state. It learns how to maintain that optimal state in life. The neurofeedback process allows the brain to decide what to learn and how to learn it. Given the amazing capacity of the human brain, its management of automatic and intentional function needed to maintain and sustain life, it’s like having a supercomputer repair itself — far more likely to work out well than if another human tinkers with it.

Because I’ve trained in EEG Neurofeedback so I can make the same difference for other families, we now have a unit at home. When Robert feels out of sorts, he requests a session. He’s in the process of weaning off the last few pills of his prescribed narcotics. That’s way better than making irrational demands, cutting, or drugging. He knows where to find a real solution now.

And that is all a mother could ask.

P.S. The neurofeedback Robert used was infra-low frequency training with Cygnet.

Suggested Reading

ADD: The 20-Hour Solution
by Mark Steinberg, PhD and Siegfried Othmer, PhD

Purchase Today

ADD: The 20-hour Solution describes a powerful remedy for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in straightforward language that every reader will understand. The authors specialize in the use of EEG biofeedback techniques (also called neurofeedback) for the attention, behavior, mood, and learning problems of children and adults. ADD: The 20-Hour Solution explains everything that parents of children or adults with ADD or ADHD need to know about how neurofeedback techniques work.

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