How does Neurofeedback work? Why is it so effective in treating brain conditions as varied as ADHD, traumatic brain injury, seizures and learning disabilities? And so on. In the interest of answering these and other questions, we thought we’d start with the history of this remarkable, non-medicinal treatment for the brain known as Neurotherapy now available in Chicago.Learn More
Cognitive Solutions offers one on one and group programs in the summer aimed at developing students’ processing abilities, executive functions, and academic weaknesses. Our programs are highly individualized, and designed to help our students reach their full potential. Our programming is designed for students diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD or ADHD), learning disabilities (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia), or executive functioning difficulties in Chicago, Illinois. Contact us at 773-755-1775 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on our summer remediation programs.Learn More
Learning Specialist – Isn’t that just a tutor?
By Ari Goldstein, Ph.D.
Tutors have existed for as long as man. Elders helping the younger generation learn the skill sets necessary to survive in their environment. Of course, early tutoring focused more on gathering food and creating shelter than on memorizing math tables. Fast forward to our test driven and memorization based school curriculum. Students have to absorb and repeat mountains of information on a regular basis. They have to work quickly, efficiently, and a strong competitive sense emergences in most classrooms from an early age. Most parents feel their children need to keep up, and some are concerned with even “Average” performance. As a result, Americans spend billions of dollars each year for tutoring support for their children.
A tutor is a very useful tool for many students. Tutors help their pupils learn facts, study for tests, and become more fluent and efficient with a range of academic tasks. But what happens when those academic deficiencies are driven by difficulties processing information? Does the tutoring work? My clinical experience would indicate that often it does not. When students come to Cognitive Solutions Learning Center in Chicago, many are initially assessed to better understand their processing and functioning through a comprehensive evaluation. Having information about how the brain processes information is highly useful when planning how to best help a student remediate areas of processing difficulty. Specialized interventions can be designed which are aimed at developing a student’s underlying cognitive and processing deficiencies. This makes the process of tutoring much more targeted and effective.
Tutors come in all shapes and sizes, with a wide variance in education, background, and experience. They range from high-school and college students looking to make some extra money to retired teachers who love helping children, and everywhere in between. How well a tutor can help a student often depends on their experience and their ability to develop a strong rapport. But what they can do is often limited. Without understanding of and intervention with underlying processing deficiencies, many students will not make the expected levels of progress they are working so hard to gain. This frequently leads to frustration on the part of the student, the tutor, and the teachers and parents.
A learning specialist is someone who typically possesses a minimum of a Master’s Degree in a special education related field. The have extensive experience reading and interpreting psychoeducational and neuropsychological evaluations, and are able to use these documents to create intensive and effective remediation programs. Many work as special education teachers in the school system, and develop private interventions for students in after-school hours. Learning specialists work to strengthen underlying brain processing, at the same time helping the student develop a strong academic skill base.
A student who has difficulty reading will often begin work with a tutor. They will typically work to develop stronger fluency, decoding, and compression skills. But what if the student isn’t making progress in this work? What if all the repetition and multi-sensory teaching are not working? That is where an understanding of processing can better assists a learning specialist in their work. Many students who struggle to read have some form difficulty with their their auditory, visual, or executive processing systems. A learning specialist will work to develop reading skills in a manner similar to a tutor, however they will also design and implement a targeted intervention to address any underlying processing deficiencies. This might include auditory processing work, expressive or receptive language development, visual tracking and visual motor work, or executive skills development. Strengthening how the brain processes information while at the same time developing academic skills makes for a powerful and effective remediation program. The same processing difficulties can be true for students with a range of learning disabilities, including dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. Often times, difficulties processing information through one of the systems mentioned is a strong underlying factor in their struggles to learn. Students diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) often have executive deficiencies that can be strengthened through targeted work with a learning specialist.
While tutoring is beneficial for many students who simply require some extra practice or “brush up” on skills, it is often ineffective for students who struggle to develop learning skills. These students frequently see far better outcomes when their academic interventions are designed more broadly to target and strengthen areas of their brain that aren’t properly processing the world around them.
At Cognitive Solutions, many students come to us after multiple unsuccessful attempts at tutoring. Our learning specialists create highly individualized remediation plans, and work with students to strengthen academic functioning, processing capacities, and self-esteem. For more information on Cognitive Solutions Learning Center in Chicago, please feel free to visit us online at www.helpforld.com.Learn More
Neurofeedback: Science or Shamanistic Ritual?
By Ari Goldstein, Ph.D.
The human brain is a fascinating organ that constantly seeks to improve itself. The capacity of the brain to grow and develop in response to environmental stimuli is magnificent. From trepanation to phrenology, behaviorism to psychoanalysis, man has sought to better understand this splendid organ. As we begin the 21st century, our knowledge of the brain continues to grow and develop at a rapid pace. Technology allows us to understand and improve how the brain functions in manners never before thought to be possible. One of the ways current science allows us to understand how the brain functions is through analysis and normalization of the electrical patterns created by the brain. The process of reading and analyzing the brain’s electrical patterns is known as a Quantitative EEG. The data provided through this process helps individuals and their clinicians understand how their brain is functioning and processing information, thereby allowing for much more targeted clinical interventions.
When I was a psychology student in College, we were taught that the brain does not grow much in adulthood. As the understanding of the brain and neuronal functioning has increased, we now know that the brain is highly capable of adapting and growing even into old age if given the right stimulus. The process of EEG Neurofeedback involves teaching the brain to grow and develop more efficient patterns of functioning. Through a series of games and activities played while connecting their brain to the computer, individuals learn to better self-regulate and improve the efficiency of their brain function.
I was first introduced to EEG Neurofeedback by Dr. Sam Effarah, and my thinking around learning and the brain changed dramatically. I was able to very clearly see quantitative data on how the brain was functioning, and saw how we could gain an amazing amount of very functional and actionable knowledge from a Quantitative EEG assessment. I also began to see the tremendous value in teaching people to regulate their own functioning through neurofeedback in a much more meaningful and lasting way. Clinicians could very clearly see patterns in the brains of individuals diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, and autistic spectrum disorders that were different from the average brain. Often times, the frontal lobe of the brain in individuals with attention difficulties has far too much of the slow wave known as “Theta”. This can cause a state of cognition known in scientific terms as “La La Land”. A fast spindly wave known as “High-Beta” was often seen throughout the brain of those with hyperactivity and anxiety. Disconnections between areas of the brain that process auditory and visual stimulus often become apparent through the Quantitative EEG in those diagnosed with learning disabilities.
When we began using EEG data to drive some of the work we do at Cognitive Solutions, the level of skepticism among our colleagues and patients was high. It was almost as if we were practicing some form of shamanistic ritual to help people. As time went on, more and more people began to try it out. We had patients referred to us with a range of symptoms, including attention disorders, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, and autism spectrum disorders. Most patients reported improvement in a range of symptoms after completing only a few sessions. Some took more time to see improvement, but those who stuck with it generally reported significant improvement in their functioning over time.
The research on Neurofeedback is strong (isnr.org). While detractors would note the lack of double blind studies, a host of solid research studies into neurofeedback show quantifiable evidence of improvement for a range of brain based dysfunctions. Anecdotal cases can be found all over the world for individuals who have seen improvement for a range of symptoms affecting their daily functioning. The American Psychological Association has consistently given higher and higher efficacy marks to this treatment as more and more solid research has been conducted.
At Cognitive Solutions Learning Center in Chicago, we have worked with thousands of patients using neurofeedback over the past fifteen years. Most have seen tremendous benefits in quality of life as a result of this treatment. As I have watched the science catch up to what I have seen personally in our clinic, I am glad to have discovered this amazing intervention tool. From shamanistic ritual to true science, it appears that neurofeedback is a viable and drug free option for many patients to treat a range of brain based symptoms.
When I was growing up in the 1970’s, there were always boys who were hyper. They couldn’t control their behaviors, responded impulsively to everything placed in front of them, and acted as if driven by little motors constantly running full speed inside their bodies. There were also boys who stared off into space on a regular basis, seeing a whole movie playing behind their eyes. There were girls who flitted around the room like social butterflies, and those who gazed out the window seeing a movie of their own.Learn More
Thoughts on Executive Functioning Skills
By Ari Goldstein, Ph.D.
When I first began teaching special education in the early 1990’s, the term executive functioning was unheard of. As a young teacher, I very quickly saw the importance of developing underlying cognitive skills to help my students learn more efficiently. They benefited tremendously from learning better strategy usage, time management, organization, and self-regulation skills. Over time, I developed a series of exercises and activities designed to strengthen these aspects of functioning in the classroom. What I found was that by developing their underlying cognitive skills and meta-cognition, I was able to help my students become better learners. We had no terminology or training programs for this, it was just good psychoeducational practice.
As I transitioned into private practice in the late 1990’s, I continued much of this work in a one on one fashion with the students I was tutoring. Around the year 2000, the term executive functioning began to emerge with some popularity in psychology and education circles. As I read more and more research on the subject, I began to understand that the underlying skills I had been working on with my students all along were, in fact, executive functioning skills. Good teachers have been working to develop these skills since the dawn of teaching, but finally there was a terminology and construct associated with what they had been doing in the classroom. I became so interested in the subject that I spent a good portion of my Ph.D. work investigating executive skills and their impact on learning and functioning.
Fast forward fifteen years. Executive functioning is now a buzz word heard throughout the academic community. Every parent, teacher, and school is now concerned with executive functioning. As a practitioner, I see this as a wonderful development. Unfortunately in our fast paced and testing based school system, the focus is primarily on test scores. We expect students to memorize and regurgitate information, but we do very little to develop their underlying self-monitoring, problem solving, and regulation skills. Schools are now more aware of executive functions, and their crucial impact on learning and problem solving throughout the life span. Many private tutors also work on executive functioning, however too often the focus is very heavy on organization skills and time management, with little work done to develop underlying frontal lobe functioning (Executive skills make their “home” in the frontal lobe of the brain).
Executive skills develop at different rates in different children. However, true executive difficulties do exist in many students, and tend to be even more prevalent in students with learning disabilities or disorders of attention (ADD/ADHD). Effective development of executive skills lies in not just teaching students how to organize themselves, but helping them develop into stronger problem solvers with better self-regulation skills. This can be done through a range of remediation programs, including Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment, Quantitative EEG training (neurofeedback), meditation practice, and one on one skill based work designed specifically to strengthen frontal lobe functioning.
Our learning specialists at Cognitive Solutions take a very individualized approach to the development of executive skills. We work one on one with students to help strengthen their frontal lobe functioning, and help them develop a tool-belt of skills for stronger school based functioning. This differs from traditional tutoring, which tends to focus on the development of academic skills without work aimed at developing underlying areas of cognitive and information processing.
For more information on Cognitive Solutions Learning Center, please visit us online at www.helpforld.com, or feel free to contact us at 773-755-1775.Learn More
Attention Deficit Disorder ADD and ADHD Treatment in Chicago: Neurofeedback and Executive Functioning Training
By Ari Goldstein, Ph.D.
Most psychologists and doctors in Chicago have limited tools available for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD and ADHD). Frequently, behavioral modifications and prescription medication are the only options presented to patients.
As an Educational Psychologist at Cognitive Solutions Learning Center in Chicago, I have noticed an alarming increase during the past decade in the number of referrals I receive for testing and treatment of disorders of attention (ADD and ADHD). What troubled me the most was that when the child received a diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), of which ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is a subcategory, that child would almost certainly end up on medication.
It’s estimated by the Institutes of Mental Health that over 10% of the school-aged population have the disorder. That’s over two million children. And that’s conservative. If all these kids are put on meds, that seems scary to me as a parent and as a professional
I therefore became interested in researching the availability and effectiveness of non-medicinal treatments for attention disorders for those in Chicago. Through my research, I came across methods I have put together successfully to help children and adults without medication. I have developed a multifaceted, noninvasive approach to treating what is essentially a disability of regulation. People with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD or ADHD), whether children or adults, have difficulty regulating and controlling their behaviors, actions, thoughts, and problem solving. To treat the disorder, we need to know how the problems in regulation are manifesting and then develop an individualized plan to address the deficits.
It is essential to actively treat the regulation deficits, which offers a long-term solution, What I oppose is over-use of medication, not medication itself. Pharmaceuticals are an alternative to consider where a child’s behavior is destructive to himself or others, or for patients who have shown no improvement after following a non-medicinal protocol diligently for four to six months.
After a thorough evaluation including batteries of tests, if it appears diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD ADHD) is appropriate, I will often send the client for a metabolic screening to rule out possible underlying blood-related causes for symptoms similar to ADD ADHD, such as blood sugar regulation difficulties, under or over active thyroid or lead poisoning.
The first prong my non-medicinal approach is nutrition and supplementation. What we put into our bodies has a tremendous role in how our brain functions. Sugar exacerbates ADD ADHD symptoms. The more stable the blood sugar level, the easier to regulate attention and the less of the anxiety experience which is often a part of ADD ADHD.
Removing processed foods from one’s diet and testing for and eliminating food allergies can also make a huge difference. Food allergies are a group of auto-immune disorders: the body is attacking itself. This can cause depression, anxiety and negatively affect one’s capacity for attention and learning.
Supplementing diets with Omega 3 fish oil from fatty fish like salmon and sardines supports enhanced brain function: Many Americans are deficient in this, and this can contribute to a range of psychological and cognitive difficulties. Likewise, pro-biotic foods like live culture yogurts improve general health and cognitive functioning.
The second prong is exercise and sensory input. Exercise helps balance the chemicals in our brain. This is especially important if a child is spending lots of time in front of video games, TV and computers. From the earliest days, these devices wreak havoc on our attention span: If a child spends more than two hours a day engaged in these pursuits, there is a greater chance of developing ADHD. From my perspective, the spike in diagnosis at least in part to children getting used to such constant and rapid media stimulation that it’s hard to adjust to the real world.
I have frequently observed that young boys diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD ADHD) are hungry for sensory stimulation. I frequently put them on a diet with crunchy foods, and suggest activities like swinging on a swing and swimming, both to work off energy and calm them down. Tae Kwon Do is recommended as an excellent vehicle for engaging in physical activity with others, while instilling discipline and focus.
The third prong of my approach is executive functions training. These functions have a number of components that are found in the frontal lobe, from cognitive planning to physical organization, from controlling emotional outflow to working memory. Developing executive functioning and cognitive organization leads to physical organization,
A thorough evaluation of these functions will show which areas need to be addressed. While medications can help the behavioral and academic aspects, it is short lived. We do a child disservice when we do not train them in specific executive function skills. Parents can support this development as well through ensuring their children have structure and routine, which are comforting, and logical consequences where behaviors require modification.
The fourth prong, which is the leading non-medicinal treatment for ADHD, is neurofeedback. The brain is an electrical matrix with different signals being sent, but the signals may not be functioning optimally. The neurofeedback process consists of a video game the child plays with their mind. Initial brain imaging [QEEG] helps to show what is functioning optimally and what is not. Neurofeedback provides training to recognize what a brain wave state feels like, so we can shift it more easily. This teaches children with ADHD how it feels to shift their brain from a relaxed to an attentive state.
Individuals who wish to remain medication free are highly encouraged to explore the four prong treatment methodology laid out in this article. For more information, or for help in the Chicago area, please contact us.Learn More