About Neurofeedback And When It Makes Sense

Parents of students with dyslexia, ADD or auditory processing disorder (APD) often look to a variety of therapies to help with these conditions. Learning about neurofeedback (or biofeedback, as it is also known) is one of the steps many take.

Neurofeedback measures electrical brain activity using an Electroencephalogram (EEG) via wires and small electrodes attached to the head. The EEG measures brain activity and attempts to find points of dysregulation. The subject is shown this information on a computer screen with the goal of identifying ways to recognize and correct any miscues. A series of rewarding stimuli is applied for progress throughout each session.

Neurofeedback In Plain English

The idea behind neurofeedback is to give a child a sense of what concentration feels like. It uses brain waves that are able to move things on a computer screen when the student concentrates.  Seeing the screen change gives immediate feedback to the child, letting him know he is focusing correctly.

A home-based version of neurofeedback, called Play Attention, encourages a student to raise a plane and keep flying it simply by concentrating.  Another version of neurofeedback allows children to run videos using their powers of concentration.

This on-screen activity at the core of neurofeedback reinforces the act of concentration and focus. It’s not unlike how a tennis or golf ball looks when it is hit right.  The arc of the ball and how it feels on the club or the racket helps the brain figure out how to play better.

The hope behind neurofeedback, as yet not substantiated in rigorous trials, is that focus is a skill that can be learned like golf or tennis.  The goal of neurofeedback is to train the brain to regulate itself and function better.

Neurofeedback has grown in popularity as a treatment for ADHD, inattentive ADD, anxiety, depression and seizures. While the therapy, administered and monitored by capable experts, is helpful for many of the conditions it purports to treat, there are other issues that can significantly diminish its effectiveness. These include poor sleep habits, environmental factors, nutritional deficiencies, or specific learning disabilities.

The main criticism is that when you read about neurofeedback in research studies there is a common theme that the gains often detected while neurofeedback is being used start to fade after the program stops.  Practice does not make perfect.  In this way, neurofeedback acts more like a natural version of ADHD medication. It can help, and actually sometimes it can help quite dramatically, but once you go off it the help fades fast.

Fast ForWord Compared To Neurofeedback

Fast ForWord is brain-based, but that’s about where the similarities end.

With years of research and testing, Fast ForWord has been shown to actually build the brain’s capacity by improving the pathways that bolster skills such as reading and listening comprehension. It interacts with the cognitive skills and neural connections that determine learning ability.

Presented as a series of engaging computer games, Fast ForWord helps students improve focus and attention while strengthening working memory. Listening exercises stimulate different frequencies that improve auditory processing. Simultaneously, Fast ForWord addresses cognitive and academic needs such as phonemic awareness, grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary. The training is accomplished in a way that is fun and entertaining, making it feel much less like work for students who may be struggling.

Neurofeedback vs. Fast ForWord

While they can be therapeutically complementary, neurofeedback and Fast ForWord are very different protocols that work on different aspects of learning and have very different time frames and long term impacts.

Neurofeedback, when properly administered, is designed to organize the brain and teach it to operate better. It teaches techniques that must continuously be monitored and practiced to be effective. Fast ForWord, on the other hand, interacts with deep-seated cognitive skills–it actually increases the brain’s capacity to learn by targeting specific functions and skills. The exercises in Fast ForWord make lasting improvements to the pathways of the brain. Once these pathways have been improved, there is no need to repeat the protocol as it becomes part of the brain’s normal process.

When comparing the two strategies, it’s useful to think about neurofeedback as playing golf and Fast ForWord as riding a bicycle. In golf, you buy a set of clubs, perfect your swing, and practice playing as often as you can. Sometimes, you’re better able to apply what you’ve learned in practice than at other times. If you go several months without playing, you may find that your swing is off-kilter or your stance isn’t quite right. You will need more practice and maybe even some coaching from a pro.

Conversely, Fast ForWord is like learning to ride a bicycle. Once you learn to ride the bike, you’ll never forget it. You could go for months without riding, but once you get back on, your muscle memory takes over, and you ride with ease.  Many Fast ForWord students go on to experience learning acceleration for years after program completion – -this is because the changes made during the program are part of the student.

Gemm Learning has been a trusted provider of Fast ForWord software in the U.S. and Canada since 2006. To see if Fast ForWord is right for your child, call us anytime at 1-877-914-4366.