Neurofeedback to Improve Inattention and Impulse Control in Children and Teens

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As children grow, they learn how to control their emotions and behaviors as they become teens and mature into adults. At times, children and teens can struggle to control their emotional and behavioral impulses, which can result in disruptions or dysfunctions in a variety of aspects of their personal, social, academic or family lives. Impulse control disorders can result in repetitive and destructive behaviors despite consequences they would experience from these behaviors. Many parents search the internet to find what to do about their child or teen. They look for common symptoms for impulse control, impulsive behavior, what medicines are used for impulse control and finally many parents look at ADHD or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Some commonly cited disorders know to occur with, or to present symptoms that mirror, impulse control disorders include:

  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Depressive disorders.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Oppositional defiant disorder.
  • Conduct disorder.
  • Antisocial personality disorder.(1)

So the search becomes harder! The professional at SYMMETRY Neuro-Pathway aims to help parents with their research. What we have compiled in the following article is a breakdown of causes, risk factors, signs and symptoms, current methods to help impulse control and alternatives to medications. Check it out and connect with us on social media to stay up to date!

Causes and Risk Factors of Impulse Control

Research has shown that there is not one specific cause as to why impulse control symptoms develop, many mental health professionals agree that a combination of multiple factors come into play prior to the onset of these symptoms developing. Such factors include (these factors can contribute to many other types of symptoms and disorders as well):

  • Genetics: Most mental health disorders have a strong genetic tie to the presence of impulse control disorders. Various studies have shown that children and adolescents who have family members who struggle with impulsive symptoms are more susceptible to developing symptoms of impulse control disorders.(2)
  • Physical: Research has shown that there is a high probability that when the specific brain structures that are linked to the functioning of emotions, planning, and memory become imbalanced, symptoms of impulse control behaviors can develop.(2)
  • Environmental: Environmental factors can play a significant role in the onset of behaviors that are symptomatic of impulse control disorders. When children are raised in families where violence, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and explosive emotional reactions to certain situations are prevalent, they may be at a higher risk for developing some type of impulse control disorder. For some children and adolescents, the onset of such behaviors may be a somewhat unconscious means of gaining control over situations in which they would otherwise not have any control and provide them with a sense of escape from the chaos that surrounds them.(2)

In cases where children or teens suffering from the negative characteristics of these conditions have a desire to gain control over their emotions and behaviors, “they may find it difficult, and almost impossible, to do so due to the fact that urges to participate in the behaviors are undeniably overwhelming and all-consuming.” (1)impulsive teen

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Being of younger age
  • Chronic exposure to violence and aggressive
  • Being the subject of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse and neglect
  • Pre-existing mental illness
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal or family history of substance abuse and addiction (2)

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms that will present themselves in children and adolescents who are struggling with an impulse control vary depending on the specific type of impulse control symptoms they have, age, environment, and gender. The following is a list of different symptoms that may indicate the presence of an impulse control disorder (2).

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Stealing
  • Compulsive lying.
  • Starting fires
  • Participating in risky sexual behaviors
  • Acting out aggressively or violently against people, animals, objects, and/or property

Physical symptoms:

  • Presence of injuries or scars from engaging in physical fights or episodes of aggressively acting out
  • Burn marks on those who engage in fire-starting behaviors
  • Presence of sexually-transmitted diseases as a result from participating in risky sexual behaviors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Obsessive thought patterns
  • Compulsive thought patterns
  • Inability to control impulses
  • Inability to remain patient

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family
  • Lowered feelings of self-worth
  • Random episodes of emotional detachment

The long-term impulse control effects can result in negative symptoms when not controlled and cause long-lasting negative impacts on the child or teen’s personal and family life. This may include:

  • Decline in academic performance
  • Suspension or expulsion from school
  • Experiencing difficulty in developing and maintaining healthy social relationships
  • Participate in self-harming behaviors or activities
  • Legal interaction, including possible incarceration
  • Consistently decreasing feelings of self-worth (2)

Research has shown that children and teens who show these symptoms do not have the right coping skills to control these impulses and one main reason is due to a brain based dysregulation of the communication areas of the brain that helps to control impulsivity.

Options to help impulse control symptoms:

Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and/or medications are usually the initial options discussed by medical and mental health professionals. However, there is an alternative option that can help correct the root cause of these symptoms. One that is an all natural alternative is in the form of neurofeedback.

What is Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is a drug-free, non-invasive natural approach to impulsivity, ADHD, mood or impulse control concerns or disorders in children and teens. While medication has a long standing history of helping individuals cope with impulsivity symptoms. Medication is not a long-term solution. Medications have a place in short term care, but they do not address the underlying brain wave abnormality. This is how neurofeedback can help.

Neurofeedback works to create more efficient brainwave connections by conditioning appropriate brainwave patterns, which improves a brain’s response to stress, impulsivity, anxiety, and combats the negative symptoms associated with many other cognitive issues and disorders. With neurofeedback, individuals develop the skills necessary to reduce or eliminate the negative symptoms they face simply by watching a movie, listening to music or playing a video game.

How does Neurofeedback help Impulsivity?

The Prefrontal Cortex area controls the “executive functions” of the brain including judgment, impulse control, management of aggression, emotional regulation, self regulation, planning, reasoning and social skills.(3) Scientists do suspect that certain brain structures – including the limbic system, linked to emotions and memory functions, and the frontal lobe, the part of the brain’s cortex linked to planning functions and controlling impulses affect the disorder – affect impulse control disorders.(4)

A child or teen that experiences negative symptoms from impulsivity concerns, tend to usually have excessive slow brain waves present. This is also true for a student with ADHD type symptoms. When an excessive amount of slow waves are present in the executive (frontal) parts of the brain, it becomes difficult to control attention, behavior, and/or emotions. Dr. Pagan reported “Many children who have been diagnosed with ADHD or impulsivity generally have problems with concentration, focus, memory, controlling their impulses and moods, or with hyperactivity will see excessively high amounts of theta brain waves in the frontal lobe. Studies show that brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, don’t work the same in children and adults with ADHD. There also tend to be differences in the way nerve pathways work” (Pagan, 2016).

Scientists in California say they’ve found a way to better differentiate teenagers with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD.They say the brain waves of teens who are unable to pay attention are very different than the brain waves of teens who are simply overactive or impulsive. They say this is the first time doctors can clearly see subcategories within the ADHD diagnosis. See video for news review:

Neurotransmitters are information pathways to communicate all different sorts of information and an individual’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts are communicated between neurons within our brains. If the connections are not being met, then the communication between body and brain breaks down and negative symptoms will begin to emerge.

Here is a great example of how brain waves are functioning in a child’s brain with ADHD vs a child without ADHD. 

Neurotransmitters can also be hormones that tell your brain to perform certain emotions and actions. Certain hormones associated with aggression and violent behaviors, such as testosterone, also could play a role especially in the control of male aggression.

An example of how different disorders can affect certain genders would be that women (who normally have less testosterone hormones than men) might be predisposed to less aggressive types of impulse control disorders such as kleptomania (stealing items) while men may be predisposed to more violent and aggressive types such as pyromania (fire starting) and intermittent explosive disorder (aggressive rage). Studies have shown that family members of people with impulse control disorders have a higher rate of addiction and mood disorders as well.(4)

So, as one can see, if nothing is done to correct the brain-based root cause, then the symptoms will continue and could potentially develop into bigger problems as the child ages and could further disrupt the family dynamics. This is where neurofeedback aims to help correct the root cause of these negative symptoms stemming from brainwave dysregulation to improve to the child’s optimal state.

Quick Breakdown of how Neurofeedback Works:  

Neurofeedback targets the problem areas of the brain and reduces these unwanted symptoms by using repetitive positive reinforcement training to correct the deregulated brain wave patterns and make them more efficient. As the brain learns to retrain the neural pathways, the brain learns to remain more calm, more focused and other benefits begin to emerge such as, behavioral problems reduce, memory improves, and an increase in concentration. After consistent training, a child, teen or adult are able to regain control over the negative symptoms experienced and behaviors improve.

Since the late 1970’s, neurofeedback has been researched with ADHD and impulsivity. Dr. Lubar (1995) and his colleagues at the University of Tennessee, published a 10 year follow-ups on cases and found that in approximately 80% of patients neurofeedback substantially improved the symptoms of ADHD, and these changes were maintained.

How can SYMMETRY Neuro-Pathway Training (Neuro-PT) Help?

SYMMETRY Neuro-PT is neurofeedback that retrains brain waves through auditory and/or visual stimulation by simply watching a movie, listening to music, or playing a video game. Through training, the brain is conditioned to reduce unwanted symptoms through positive and negative reinforcement. This form of brain training is a holistic approach and provides long-lasting relief. It is non-invasive, uses no medication, it is painless, and long-lasting. With sessions completed twice a week, which averages between 30-40 sessions in total, many trainees are able to reduce or cease their medication usage once their brainwaves are retrained and are functioning correctly.

SYMMETRY Neuro-PT benefits include:

  • Improved focus, attention and concentration.
  • Better sleep.
  • More confident.
  • Improved task performance.
  • Feeling more calm, secure and less stressed.
  • Improved memory.
  • The list goes on…

We aim to help students with attention, concentration, focus, impulsivity concerns and can be used in children, teens and adults. The main reason neurofeedback is especially important for managing ADHD is that medication can drastically affect the quality of life. Medication is either a stimulant, designed to improve focus – which should be given to children with extreme caution – or an antidepressant, which can have implications on mood and behavior outside of the disorder.

We offer additional opportunities for rehabilitation through directly retraining the brain, correcting the root cause of the dysregulation and is ideal when utilized with other forms of therapy; such as, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational, physical, and relaxation therapy. Evidenced-based research show that the results of neurofeedback are long-term with continued improvements once treatment has ended due to the brain is working optimally.

Neurofeedback can help improve symptoms in the further areas:

  • Addiction & Substance Abuse
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Cognitive Impairment associated with Aging
  • Depression and other Mood Disorders
  • Migraines and Memory Loss
  • Peak Performance
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Stroke and Neurodegenerative conditions
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Other brain-related conditions

Neurofeedback is a learning modality by which the brain will retrain its brain wave patterns subsciously throughout the program. Ultimately, trainees will see a reduction in undesired symptoms and enhance desired states of functioning depending on the goals of the trainee. SYMMETRY Neuro-PT offers in-office training for those local to one of our branches and we have just introduced an @Home Training option at an even better price – at HALF off of what other in-office neurofeedback training providers cost!

Final Thought 

SYMMETRY Neuro-PT, or neurofeedback training, can be compared to strength training for the brain. The more consistent a person trains, the stronger the brain will become and will receive better results. If you improve the root concerns now, then your child will have a better chance to build upon their academics with a more efficient brain, which means behavior will improve, they will be more focused, school work will become less of a challenge, and family life will improve as a whole since there will be less stress from the negative symptoms they currently experience. It is a win-win for everyone involved. Training has long term results and will maintain for years after training. If you are interested to learn more, contact us and ask as many questions as you like!

If you feel that you or a family member are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.


Resources:

  1. http://www.resourcetreatmentcenter.com/behavioral/impulse-control
  2. http://www.resourcetreatmentcenter.com/behavioral/impulse-control/symptoms-effects
  3. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-the-brain-works/
  4. https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-are-impulse-control-disorders/