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Therapist Plays Brain Games for Treatment

WESTPORT, Conn. - There is an unlikely therapy for ADD/HD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder): video games.

Gray Matters is the only clinic in Connecticut to use PlayStation game consoles -- directly linked to brain activity -- to treat children with attention issues. Therapists at Gray Matters use an approach known as neurofeedback (also known as EEG biofeedback) as an alternative to medicating children with ADD/HD.

Neurofeedback measures brain activity in real-time and links this activity with an interface (a game) that tells the user what his or her brain is doing.

Gray Matters uses a system that was developed and patented by NASA. It wirelessly links a PlayStation 2 console to a “Smartbox, which then measures a child’s brain waves. The more a child concentrates, the faster he or she makes the game's car speed along in the game.

According to Anthony Silver, Gray Matters' director, children learn to identify the feeling of being focused and then gradually become more proficient at it. He tells children, “It’s like going to the gym for your brain,” in order to gradually build their strength and ability.

Silver, who works as a family therapist in Westport, and at the Southfield Center for Development in Darien, was born and educated in the United Kingdom and has lived in Westport for more than five years.

He is passionate about the empowering nature of this training. He says he is eager to change children’s perception that there’s something wrong with them, emphasizing instead their ability to develop the tools for their own improvement.

Gray Matters is one of the few clinics in the state to use “QEEG diagnostic brain mapping,” a tool which Silver uses to guide neurofeedback treatment. Measuring the electrical activity of the entire cortex and comparing it with a vast database of readings from people of the same age, Silver explains how this measurement can differentiate the underlying causes of different issues that often have confusingly similar symptoms.

Says Silver: "Children are generally diagnosed with ADHD based on rating scales and other descriptions of their symptoms, but these descriptions are subjective. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) identified this kind of subjectivity as the greatest weakness of ADHD diagnosis; everyone has different perceptions and expectations. And as a result, kids are often given stimulant medication as an extension of the diagnostic process -- to see how they respond.”

By contrast, brain mapping turns this previously subjective diagnosis into a more empirical one. Silver points to the frontal lobes in the brain map of an ADHD child. “This red area shows the typical cortical slowing associated with ADHD” he says.  “On the other hand, [another] map shows a brain that’s racing; unable to quiet itself.” Both children, he says, were diagnosed and medicated for ADHD, and one with bad results.

Silver says brain mapping reduces the risk of that kind of misdiagnosis, and saves children the experience of being incorrectly medicated.

“Fundamentally, medication does not resolve the underlying issues of ADHD, anxiety or other functional disorders,” he says. “It just masks the problem until the medication wears off. What we’re trying to do is help children develop these skills themselves, and teach them to self-regulate. We want to build self-esteem and self-efficacy.”

And that, it seems, is a no-brainer.

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