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The Science Behind Brain Balance

By Dr. Rebecca Jackson

Our Kids are Struggling: The Statistics

If your child struggles with attention, behavior, or regulating their mood and emotions, you’re not alone. Rates of kids impacted by a developmental disorder are high, and continuing to climb. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 17 percent of kids ages 3-17 were diagnosed with a developmental disorder from 2009-2017 and the numbers escalated during the pandemic. 

Developmental disorders include a broad range of symptoms and conditions. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is the most prevalent developmental disorder, impacting an estimated 10 percent of kids. Autism has been diagnosed in roughly 3 percent of children. Sensory Processing Disorder has been shown to impact a range of 5-16 percent of the population - resulting in a disruption in the integration of sensory information that “contributes to successful functioning in daily life reflected in the ability to self-regulate, interact socially, and develop adaptive behavioral skills/abilities.” Anxiety is also gaining traction in being recognized as being neurodevelopmental in origin and is thought to impact nearly 20 percent of the population at some point in their life. The result is that nearly 1 in 3 kids struggle to some degree with aspects of development that impact daily life.  

Traditional Interventions

The traditional approaches for addressing ADHD and other developmental conditions, often focus on the behavioral components of the disorder. The CDC’s initial recommendations for ADHD support include parent training in behavior management, classroom behavioral interventions, and medication for children 6 and older. While these approaches can be beneficial, all too often they address only some of the complications involved with ADHD, and can result in negative side effects, or little to no change. A meta-analysis of the long-term impact of ADHD medications on functional outcomes demonstrates mixed results, with unclear long-term risks and benefits. Kids facing anxiety often follow a similar path in seeking out a combination of counseling and medication to manage symptoms. While these approaches are necessary and can be helpful, they often neglect to address the underlying neurodevelopmental aspects of the conditions.   

Family Impact

ADHD, anxiety, sensory processing, and autism are not only stressful on the child with the condition, but on the family as a whole. A recent study involving in-depth parent interviews of children with ADHD identified consistent themes from parents including concerns of the impact of ADHD on families both within and outside the home, a need for families to reconfigure home life, experiences of trial and error accommodations at school, and feeling the need to respond to social pressures to fit in. The conclusion of the study stated, “Families desired access to family-centered, multimodal approaches to ADHD treatment.” Medication and behavior support is not always enough, parents are searching for more.  

Beyond Labels

At Brain Balance, we focus on each child’s combination of developmental measures, rather than the diagnosis. While a diagnosis can provide helpful insights and information, it can narrow the focus to the most prevalent symptom - missing the broader impact of the condition across multiple domains of development. For example, ADHD is not limited to attention and behavior, but also impacts executive functions, mood and emotional regulation, learning, and social interactions. Anxiety impacts mood and emotions, and can also impact attention, cognition, and social interactions. Another example is the symptom of inattention impacts not only kids diagnosed with ADHD, but can also be negatively impacted with autism, anxiety, and sensory processing disorder. A child with ADHD not only can struggle with attention and managing behaviors, but there can also be an impact on academics, executive functions, and regulating mood and emotions.  At Brain Balance, our comprehensive assessment looks beyond the label to understand many facets of foundational development that contribute to the development of the higher-brain functions resulting in increased attention, control, and regulation.  

It’s All About the Brain

The common denominator in who we help at Brain Balance are concerns and challenges that are related to the brain and development. How we experience life - physically, socially, and emotionally is all dependent on our brain health and development.  Development contributes to how accurately the brain takes in, processes, and reacts to information.  Any disruptions or dysregulations in how the brain interprets and responds to information alter the experience. Any disruptions in the typical trajectory of development have the potential to create far-reaching complications.    

Brain Balance is Here to Help

For the family that hopes to avoid medication, reduce the need for medication, or for whom medication, behavior intervention, or other traditional approaches have not been enough, Brain Balance is here to help. Multiple studies have found consistent evidence of improvements in ADHD, attention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, cognition, and well-being, as a result of the Brain Balance program. The most recent Brain Balance research study published examined the developmental outcomes of over 4,000 program participants.  This study complements the Harvard Brain Balance research study that demonstrated a substantial reduction in ADHD and ADHD symptoms from the perspective of parents, clinicians, and diagnostic measures. 

Leveraging Science to Drive the Program and Outcomes

The science behind Brain Balance applies three core concepts to our assessment and program. Developmental milestones, an integrative, multi-modal approach, and the principles of neuroplasticity to drive change in the brain.

Developmental Milestones 

Developmental milestones are used universally to monitor the progression of development. Brain Balance utilizes developmental milestones as key indicators to understand the intricacies of development that culminate in high-level abilities including attention, inhibitory control, learning, and mood/emotional regulation. Pediatricians use early developmental milestones to assess an infant’s social engagement, communication, and early coordination. Schools utilize age-based measures of learning to gauge a student’s success. At Brain Balance, our goal is to identify if the typical trajectory of development has been disrupted, determine the size of the developmental gap, and identify the key areas of development impacted. Brain Balance utilizes a broad array of milestones across the multiple domains of development, ranging from birth through the teenage years to determine if developmental delays could be contributing to current challenges, disrupting optimal development. 

Developmental Milestones Measured at Brain Balance

Developmental milestones are a set of goals or markers a child is expected to achieve during maturation. Milestones that are not within the appropriate range for age are indicators of developmental immaturity. Development is a series of events that begin simple, and build in complexity over time. 

  • Attention - the ability to sustain attention without a reward
  • Inhibitory control - the ability to stop an action
  • Working memory - the ability to store information in memory long enough to apply the information appropriately
  • Body coordination - the ability to coordinate multiple body parts to move with synchrony
  • Balance - the body’s ability to sense and control the body in response to motion or to maintain a position
  • Rhythm and timing
  • Visual-motor coordination - the speed, accuracy, endurance, and coordination of eye movements 
  • Perception - auditory and visual processing
  • Fine motor - coordination of the small muscles in the hands
  • Developmental reflexes - infant reflexes that should be inhibited by 1 year of age leading to early development and control

An Integrative, Multimodal Approach

Research has found a connection between the many domains of development; sensory, motor, behavioral, social-emotional, and cognitive. In other words, each domain depends on the proper functioning of the other domains. When a disruption or immaturity exists in one developmental domain, negative impacts can be seen in other domains. Brain Balance is unique in that our program focuses on the optimal functioning of each domain simultaneously and how they work together.  

The separate domains must work together to perform everyday tasks that rely on multiple systems working together. A child sitting in the classroom is relying on an array of functions including auditory and visual processing, attention, working memory, fine motor skills, and inhibitory control to learn. A disruption in any one of those functions can disrupt the classroom experience. Exercising each function in isolation can improve that function - but that is not true to life’s experiences - we rely on the seamless integration of many functions to be successful at work, school, and life. To improve overall brain function, the Brain Balance program improves brain connectivity by engaging multiple brain networks simultaneously.

The Principles of Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change through growth and reorganization. Neuroplasticity is a continual process that begins in utero and continues across the lifespan. Childhood is unique in the rate of rapid growth and organization as the brain is rapidly forming new connections, strengthening existing pathways to become faster, and discontinuing the use of other pathways to improve efficiency. A leading neuroscience professor, Dr. Merzenich, states, “Engaging the brain’s plasticity to drive beneficial changes requires exact stimuli, delivered in the appropriate sequence, with precise timing. The training must be intense, repetitive, and progressively challenging.” That formula is applied to the integrative Brain Balance program!  

Brain Balance research and outcomes

The Brain Balance published research demonstrates that the Brain Balance program leads to consistent and significant outcomes in the areas of decreased hyperactivity, impulsivity, and negative behaviors; and improves attention, cognition, social-emotional function, and motor development.  

Highlights from the most recent Brain Balance research:

Psychiatry Research, 2023 - Harvard/McLean study

  • Parent-reported reduction in symptoms of ADHD with substantial improvement across all domains, and most notably inattention
  • Clinician ratings demonstrated changes in total ADHD scores as well as in the subscales of inattention and hyperactivity
  • Outcomes were consistent with a low-dose ADHD medication, without the risk of potential side effects

Frontiers in Psychology, 2023 - Over 4,000 study participants

  • Significant improvement across the developmental domains of attention, cognition, social-emotional, behavioral, academic, and executive functioning (large to very large effect size across all domains)
  • Improvements in developmental milestone measures of physical coordination, fine motor coordination, body awareness, rhythm and timing, and gaze stability
  • Diminishment in the retention of primitive reflexes

Journal for the Study of Education and Development, 2023 

  • Teacher-reported improvements in ADHD across all subscales with the most notable improvements in inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsivity
  • Improvements in the developmental milestone measures of auditory processing, fine motor skills, gross motor coordination, body awareness, gaze stability, and rhythm and timing
  • Diminishment in the retention of primitive reflexes 

*Review additional Brain Balance research and studies here. 

Who Benefits from the Brain Balance Program?

When it comes to improving the brain and development there is no singular approach that addresses all concerns. If the challenges are related to brain health and a developmental gap, the Brain Balance program is designed to build and mature the brain, minimizing the developmental gap, and the symptoms related to that developmental gap. The Brain Balance program also provides education and support around brain health, guiding you to create a healthy lifestyle to support optimal brain and body functioning. Nutrition, a balance of physical activity and screen time, hydration, and sleep are all important contributors to brain health and development. 

Not sure if you or your child is experiencing a developmental gap? Start with an assessment. Brain Balance utilizes scientifically validated measures to gauge development and functions across the span of brain health and development domains.

Research has shown that program outcomes are dependent on the severity of the initial developmental gap - the larger the initial gap, the greater the change throughout the program.  

Brain Balance is in Good Company

It’s an exciting time in the world of brain health and cognition. More and more research-backed methodologies are emerging to fulfill the growing need of parents and adults wanting to overcome challenges related to brain health and development. While the landscape of options to improve brain health and development is changing rapidly, Brain Balance continues to lead the way with our more than 15-year history, research, outcomes, and comprehensive nature of our program.

Dr. Rebecca Jackson

Chief Programs Officer

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