Good Morning America Transcript “Back to School” Series – August 19, 1998
(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)
KEVIN NEWMAN, HOST: This morning, in our special series Back to School: Making a Difference, is your child impulsive, hyperactive, unable to focus? Well, those are just some of the symptoms of the most common attention deficit disorder, ADHD. And the H in that stands for hyperactivity.
There are a million and a half kids with the diagnosis that deal with it by taking drugs like Ritalin each day, a million and a half kids. Well, 70 to 80 percent see improvement with the drugs. A lot of parents worry about the side effects. And our Carol Lin is here with the story of a mother who is crusading for a new and controversial high—tech approach.
CAROL LIN, ABC NEWS: Kevin, we’re already getting a lot of calls about this story. Linda Vergara is an assistant school principal in Yonkers, New York, who had seen many students with ADHD and believed that drug therapy made them lethargic and withdrawn. Then her own son was diagnosed with ADHD, and she was determined to find an alternative.
LINDA VERGARA: I thought he was just a normal, regular, real boy who liked to play with toys and liked to jump.
CAROL LIN (VO:) Six—year—old Jon—Michael looked like a normal, healthy boy, but his behavior told his mother something was very wrong.
LINDA VERGARA: He could not stay still. He had difficulty focusing, concentrating. He had difficulty eating with us when we sat down at a dinner table. He could not sit down with us.
CAROL LIN (VO): Jon—Michael was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, also known as ADHD. The only treatment doctors recommended, daily doses of the drug Ritalin. Linda refused.
LINDA VERGARA: I very much believe in saying no to drugs. Well, we’re living in a society that you want the perfect fix—it immediately, today, now.
CAROL LIN: And do you think that’s how society has been treating ADHD?
LINDA VERGARA: Absolutely. Give the kid a pill, make it better for everyone.
CAROL LIN (VO): Linda researched papers and the Internet. She found a controversial alternative. What if children could train their brains to focus? The new treatment, called neurofeedback, is a theory based on the fact that ADHD children’s brains are different. The part of the brain that controls planning and concentration, called the prefrontal cortex, is smaller than normal. As a result, ADHD kids produce too many of the slower brain waves, called theta, associated with inattention and daydreaming, and not enough of the faster beta waves associated with concentration. Some researchers say neurofeedback teaches kids how to
rebalance their brain waves to more normal levels. Psychologist Joel Lubar pioneered the technique.
JOE LUBAR, PHD, PSYCHOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE: We simply teach them to try to decrease the theta and
increase the beta, and combine this with academic tasks so they can learn to do it in homework and in school settings at the same time.
CAROL LIN (VO): Here’s how it works.
CLINICIAN: So we’re just putting the sensors on.
CAROL LIN (VO): First, kids are hooked up to brain wave sensors and asked to focus on winning a video game, either by filling in a puzzle or matching cards.
CLINICIAN: Good, nice and focused.
CAROL LIN (VO:) They are rewarded each time the computer senses brain waves normalizing during moments of concentration.
CLINICIAN: Relaxed, calm, focused. Everything you wanted to do, you just did.
CAROL LIN (VO): An estimated 10,000 ADHD children have used neurofeedback. The hope, they will learn what it feels like to concentrate.
DR JOEL LUBAR: They can learn to recognize when they’re producing the pattern associated with attention and focusing, and they
can recognize the pattern that’s associated with dropping out or essentially losing attention, so that in the classroom, they can produce the pattern which is most effective in being able to get the task done and to focus and concentrate.
CAROL LIN (VO): It takes about 40 sessions to see results, which, according to parents, last long after training ends, unlike drugs, whose benefits end when the child stops taking them. Neurofeedback is much more expensive than drugs, $4,000 to $6,000. But parents insist they get results, children with higher grades who need lower doses of Ritalin. Linda Vergara says neurofeedback was a drug—free way to change her son’s life.
LINDA VERGARA: It empowered him, definitely. Being able to sit down and have dinner with us, without having to run around.
CAROL LIN: Something as simple as that.
LINDA VERGARA: Yes, absolutely. Being able to sleep all night without jumping.
CAROL LIN (VO): Six years later, Jon—Michael looks like living proof that neurofeedback works.
JON—MICHAEL NEGRON, NEUROFEEDBACK PATIENT: I can’t explain it, it’s just something that stays with you. And it feels good.
CAROL LIN: Before the training sessions, would you have been able to sit still like this and have this conversation?
JON—MICHAEL NEGRON: No, probably not.
CAROL LIN (VO): It didn’t end at home. Linda, an assistant principal in Yonkers, New York, convinced her school to start a neurofeedback pilot program and saw results with her ADHD students. But in science, seeing does not always mean people have reason to believe, according to one of the country’s leading researchers on attention deficit disorder.
RUSSELL BARKLEY, PHD, “TAKING CHARGE OF ADHD”: At best, it is viewed as experimental.
CAROL LIN: Are you saying that these changes could be a figment of their imagination?
DR RUSSELL BARKLEY: They may be imagining it. It may be a placebo effect, which is where just the expectation that their child
changes may actually produce changes in the child’s behavior over the short term.
CAROL LIN: What’s the harm in parents believing that neurofeedback or biofeedback works?
DR RUSSELL BARKLEY: One of the concerns we have is that the parents may be wasting their resources on a treatment for which there is very little scientific evidence for effectiveness.
CAROL LIN (VO): And while Dr Lubar agrees more research is needed, he thinks parents should have the choice.
DR JOEL LUBAR: Parents should be allowed to have the ability to engage in this treatment at the same time the research is being done.
CAROL LIN (VO): Linda Vergara is willing to take the chance.
LINDA VERGARA: If I’m kidding myself, and if it’s hocus—pocus, then let’s do some more hocus—pocus, because it’s working for him and a lot of other kids.
CAROL LIN: The Yonkers public school system agreed with Linda Vergara that the pilot program was making a difference. Next month, it’ll expand to two more schools, and the students involved will be part of a clinical study, the largest and longest yet to test the treatment’s effectiveness. All the experts we spoke to suggest before you do anything, though, Kevin, consult your doctor to talk about treatment options and to underscore the fact that right now, neurofeedback scientifically is considered experimental.
KEVIN NEWMAN: Is it expensive?
CAROL LIN: It’s very expensive. It’s $4,000 to $6,000 for 40 sessions, 40 recommended sessions. So much more expensive than drug therapy.
KEVIN NEWMAN: OK, Carol, thanks a lot. A lot of parents looking for options on this one, I got to tell you.
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