EEG Biofeedback And The Management
Of Behavioral Problems
Disruptive and problematic behaviors can accompany many different disorders and conditions. Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity, Tourette's Syndrome, epilepsy and head injury are just a few examples. One of the commonly observed features of these disorders is excessive "slow wave" or theta wave activity in the brain and a relative lack of the higher frequency "focus waves", generally referred to as beta waves. Beta waves are associated with a state of attentiveness and focus where as theta waves are reflective of a state of "dream-like" inattentiveness. In between these two frequency bands is the alpha-SMR frequency range. Increased activity in this range is associated with being relaxed and alert at the same time. SMR stands for sensorimotor rhythm which is the band immediately above alpha on the frequency spectrum and is associated with a state of attentive immobility. In doing Electro-Encephalogram biofeedback (commonly known as EEG biofeedback) the usual goal is to reduce theta wave activity and increase one or more of the higher frequency bands such as SMR or beta. Large amounts of the low frequency theta waves are indicative of a state of underarousal which is hallmark of hyperactive children. This may seem a bit paradoxical when one considers the chaotic behavior of these children as being the result of underarousal. However, this is indeed the case as one can deduce from the fact that prescribed stimulants, such as ritilin, calm them down. The hyperactive behavior may be considered a reaction to a state of underarousal in much the same way mania can be considered a response to depression. Additionally, abusive environments can exacerbate existing conditions and, in some situations, play a primary causal role. It has been shown that when elevated levels of stress hormones are present in infants, such as can be produced in environments where there is a great deal of yelling and violence, the midbrain fails to develop normally leading to impairments in arousal, attentiveness and learning. This may be nature's way of creating a sanctuary for the child's delicate psyche when the threat from the outside world becomes too great. Thus the capacity to "not attend" may take on a survival skill role in much the same way dissociation and the development of multiple personalities enhance survival when the stress reaches severely traumatic proportions. Unfortunately, these impairments in arousal lead to difficulties later on.