Julia expected parenting to be a challenge, but she wasn’t prepared for what she found herself facing with her little boy, Miguel. Miguel barely slept as an infant and didn’t improve as he got older. He threw frequent tantrums, recoiled when anyone tried to touch him and eventually became a danger to himself and others with his out-of-control behavior. Medication resulted in major side effects, and Julia didn’t believe medication would be an answer anyway. He was constantly getting into trouble at school, he misbehaved at home, and Julia feared he was heading for a perilous future if they couldn’t get a handle on the problem. She was desperate to find something that helped.
She eventually she learned about neurofeedback, acquired a neurofeedback system for home use, and began training him daily. Little by little he improved, and by the time he entered high school he was behaving better, doing well academically, and on his way to a brighter future.
Julia sat on the tiled floor of her living room in Mexico, physically and emotionally depleted, mired in worry and guilt. For the umpteenth time she asked herself what had gone so wrong with her little boy, Miguel. Her dream of raising a happy, well-adjusted child had become a disheartening nightmare almost since the day of his birth three years earlier.
As an infant it was nearly impossible to get Miguel to go to sleep and stay asleep, and his sleep habits didn’t improve as he grew older. In perpetual motion, he ran from room to room, often screaming. He wouldn’t sit still at the dinner table, and he spit out most of his food because he was put off by its consistency. He didn’t want to be touched. He couldn’t be comforted. The slightest correction resulted in tantrums so severe that Julia had to hold him down to prevent him from injuring himself or others. Any kind of noise magnified his out-of-control behavior.
Because he didn’t respond to commands or discipline, it was dangerous to take Miguel out in public. When she and her husband had to leave the house they strapped him tightly into his stroller, as there was a good chance he might bolt and not come back.
Barely existing, not living
Weighed down by discouragement, Julia was forced to acknowledge that life had become a horror show. She and her husband plodded through each day, merely existing, not living, bogged down by their constant state of exhaustion and frustration.
“The first two years of Miguel’s life were just a blur. I barely remember them,” said Julia.
The pediatrician said the problem was acid reflux, but Julia knew that something else was wrong—seriously wrong, and she needed to know what it was.
A diagnosis, but then what?
When he was three and a half, the couple had Miguel evaluated at the Star Institute near Denver, Colorado. They were told that Miguel had sensory processing issues affecting his auditory, visual, and tactile systems that made him hypersensitive to all stimulation.
“That explained why he was in a constant state of fight or fight,” she said.
It made sense—but now what?
Back home they tried cognitive behavioral therapy and occupational therapy with little success.
Blaming mom for being a “bad parent”
And then came the almost daily calls from his pre-school, and later his kindergarten, about Miguel’s uncontrollable behavior including hitting other children. Over time he was kicked out of five schools.
“They always blamed me,” said Julia, “implying that I was a bad mother and didn’t know how to parent.”
She eventually took Miguel to a neurologist who prescribed Strattera, an ADHD medication.
“It made him so groggy that I knew it wasn’t good for his brain and body and took him off of it,” said Julia.
When he was four years old a relative of Julia’s told her about neurofeedback and the Center for Brain Training. She flew from out of town to the office in Jupiter, Florida with Miguel and stayed a week. During that time the center’s director Mike Cohen did a brain map, trained him daily, and recommended that Julia obtain her own neurofeedback system so she could train Miguel regularly. He also discussed removing certain foods from his diet likely to trigger him including chocolate, sugar, food coloring, and gluten.
“We first noticed improvements in his sleep,” said Julia. “After three or four sessions he started sleeping through the night.”
Small changes and sticking to it
Other changes came more slowly.
“The changes were small and modest,” she said, “but they kept occurring, like small lightbulbs turning on one by one,” she explained.
“I stuck to the daily training because I had read a lot about neurofeedback and was sure it would eventually work. After four months of training Miguel was more calm and more settled—and friends and family noticed, too.”
She told of one incident in particular that illustrated his progress.
“Usually I had to tell Miguel about a hundred times to go take a bath,” she explained. “He would act like he didn’t hear me and keep doing whatever he was doing. One night I told him once to go take a bath and left the room. When I came back, he was gone. Where was he? Then I heard the shower running and he was in it!
“He also started being able to sit at the dinner table without running around. His focus was better when he was doing something, and he had fewer tantrums and more patience.”
Today at age 16, Miguel does neurofeedback training about once a week. Sometimes he even requests a session if he feels he’s slipping a bit.
More in control of himself
He still has challenges, particularly social ones, because he suffers from ADHD (diagnosed several years ago at Boston Children’s Hospital) as well as processing issues. He can be intense and off-putting to other kids but demonstrates considerably more control of his emotions and is better able to calm himself. He also does well academically and is staying out of trouble.
“I can’t imagine how he would have turned out without neurofeedback,” Julia said. “I think he might have been a delinquent.”
*Names changed to protect confidentiality.