Brain Balance

Posted on 27 May 2013 in in the world | 19 comments

About a month ago, I pried myself away from my kids on a Saturday morning to attend a Gluten Free Expo about an hour away. I was a little disappointed at first – it seemed like everyone there was trying to offer the best chocolate chip cookie, but not much else. After awhile I reconciled myself to the fact that many people want gluten alternatives, but they are not necessarily interested in making other changes to their diet. I found that really hard to relate to, since my own personal gluten-free journey was triggered by health issues that necessitated a lower-carbohydrate diet, not just the elimination of gluten.

Towards the end of my walk through the Expo, I came across a series of bio-medical services, information about a local conference on autism, a few cute kids’ books, and a center called Brain Balance. I was a little saturated at that point, but it seemed worth further consideration, so I took a brochure. Later, in reviewing all the materials and talking with my partner, we became intrigued enough to schedule an initial evaluation for our son.

The testing at the center involves a wide range of activities – everything from responsiveness to computer-based stimuli, physical activities, and smelling! We filled out mounds and mounds of subjective tests to supplement what they were learning about our son in the lab setting. One of the main outcomes was to ensure that our understanding of him is consistent with what the test results show – which it is. So there were no major hurdles to overcome in order to get us on board with the challenges he’s facing. As part of that initial visit we also received a copy of the book called Disconnected Kids, written by the doctor who invented the program, Dr. Robert Melillo. I committed to read the book before we went back for the test results a week later, and the material was really compelling.

One of my favorite passages in the book was one about Albert Einstein’s learning disabilities. Apparently he didn’t speak until the age of seven, and he wasn’t able to get into graduate school so he got a job in the Swiss Patent Office. Six years later he published his first draft of his Theory of Relativity.

When Einstein’s brain was examined after he died in 1955, it appeared basically the same as everyone else’s. It was roughly the same size and shape as most brains and had the average number of brain cells. One scientist, however, discovered something uniquely different about Einstein’s brain: It possessed en enormous number of connections, or synapses, between brain cells. … Einstein was passionate about music and played the piano and violin regularly. When he was stuck on a mathematical problem, he once explained, he would sit down and play music and envision his problem until the mathematical equation came to him. Put another way, listening to music (the sense of hearing) stimulated playing an instrument (physical activity), which is a right brain activity, and concentration on the equation (mental activity), which is a left brain activity. Doing so on a regular basis no only strengthened the electrical connections (communication) between the cells of the oft and right hemispheres of Einstein’s brain, but also cause new connections to grow. Combined, they increased his brainpower. He became genius. (Robert Melillo, Disconnected Kids, page 22)

disconnected-kids

The basic argument is that there is an explosion of childhood neurological disorders today, and that we continue to diagnosis them much as we did in the 1950s. Furthermore, our understanding of the brain has evolved so much, and yet the treatment programs remain basically unchanged. For example, the cerebellum refines the movements and thoughts that come from the executive center of the brain. And there is a 13-17% size difference (delayed maturation) for kids with neuro-developmental delays. What have we done to act upon that knowledge? Nothing – or not enough! Furthermore, the kinds of services available to our son through his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) at school are accommodations. That is, they will provide him with the best possible conditions for academic success – but as long as he is doing well academically (he is!) the services have accomplished their goal.

Dr. Melillo argues that Tourette’s Syndrom, dyslexia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and others share common characteristics.  This is consistent with how Oliver Marks describes these conditions in his essay An Anthropologist on Mars (written about Temple Grandin).  Another thing that my partner found particularly compelling is that a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (Pervasive Development Delays – Not Otherwise Specified) could manifest as Aspberger Syndrome or ADHD later in life. So the symptoms may vary, but the root cause is the same; the right and the left hemispheres of the brain are not in sync. It is a timing issue, and the issues that manifest in these kids are about the dependence and interdependence of the senses. He will never be able to fully adapt (exhibit appropriate behavior) if one part of his brain is overactive and another part is under-active. Dr. Melillo coined the term Functional Disconnection Syndrome (FDS) to describe this condition, and he argues that if we first focus on addressing the underlying problem (and not the resulting behavior) we can actually substantially improve the brain function (and ultimately the behavior and the lives) of these kids.

Although the test results for our son were quite interesting to us, I don’t want to share them here – though I’d be happy to share them individually with interested parents I know whose children might benefit. Suffice it to say that all the results deeply reflected what we knew about our son, but provided us with a completely different lens through which to understand him. For kids on the autism spectrum, one of the things that characterizes them is that they are very smart, and they are perceived as having no social skills. In FDS terms, the left brain (intellect, problem solving … but also perseveration, rigidity, difficulty seeing others’ perspective) is operating at age 7, and the right brain (emotion, behavioral control, integrative thinking) is operating at age 3 or 4. In super simplified terms, the left side says GO and the right side says STOP. So, the way the doctor at the center explained it to us, imagine there are two giant gears (left and right hemispheres of the brain) rotating next to each other. The left brain experiences something (my brother took my toy!) and the right brain reacts (whack!) before the clutch actually kicks in to connect the two hemispheres and enable him to choose STOP. So, our oldest is remorseful (because eventually the two halves do connect), but his self-esteem continues to be diminished by time-outs for behavior that he can’t – literally can’t – control because of the disconnect between the two halves of his brain. As a result of this loop, the world is basically an insecure place for our son – so he is anxious (always in fight or flight). That is also why he is rigid and craves predictability.

The goal of the Brain Balance program is to develop a plan that will build up his ability to shift gears in a timely way that enables him to exhibit socially appropriate behavior.

Other things in the test results that resonated for us were around his spatial awareness. In some areas he is still operating at the level of a toddler. For example, if you spin him around rapidly in a desk chair, he loses his awareness of his center or core, and he ends up slumped to one side. In addition, we experience him as either sedentary or hyperactive. His gross motor skills seem ok to us, but part of the reason for the crazy movements he makes sometimes is that he is struggling with locating own body in space. The way the doctor at the center explained it to us is that when you’re riding a bike, if you pedal fast enough you stay up. That is one of the reasons why he exhibits the hyperactive moments.

One of the many interesting things in the book is that our nutrition and screen-focused lifestyle has exacerbated these childhood disorders. Gravity enables us to get a sense of one’s own body in space – it is hugely important! Basically, if we don’t move, our brain can’t learn.

We have also experienced that our son is extremely sensitivity to noise, but lack of response to smells (in spite of his sniffer testing just fine). One of the other areas is OPK (optikenetic). There is no problem with his eye muscle movement, but because the timing between the two hemispheres of his brain is off, his sense of timing is off. Inattention and impulsivity are symptoms of this optikenetic disconnect. In other words, the individual sensing instruments (eyes, nose) work fine, but they don’t work together holistically.

whole-brain-childThe kicker – besides the fact that he could not even do Dance, Dance Revolution at this point – is that until he has appropriate brain-body connection for himself, he will not ever have it with others. In other words, his ability to develop the appropriate social and emotional behaviors depend on addressing the underlying imbalance between the two hemispheres of the brain. Along those lines, the doctor who explained the test results to us also recommended the work of Daniel Seigel, who is neuro-pyschiatrist that focuses on interpersonal neurobiology.

The program also includes a nutritional evaluation for leaky gut and/or allergens in the diet. We’re looking forward to learning what else we can do from a dietary perspective.

So … what’s not to love, right?! Well, the initial testing is a few hundred dollars, but the program itself is $5000 for twelve weeks, and they believe he’ll need to go through the program more than once. That’s $20K a year … for an after school program! The other real kicker is that Dr. Melillo is a chiropractor, dammit. In his initial book he looked at over 3500 medical articles in fields like neuroscience which inform our understanding of the brain and how it develops. Through that research he developed this practical program. That said, I remember learning about Thomas Kuhn‘s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in graduate school. He basically argues that scientific disciplines get stuck in ways of looking at and solving problems, and that there are then paradigm-shifting moments that often come from outside those specializations. I firmly believe this (it’s part of the reason we put our son on a gluten-free casein-free diet long before it was recommended by any doctors) because parents of kids on the spectrum found that it worked, wrote about it, and finally pressured the medical establishment into proving that yes, in fact, kids on the spectrum do have a higher rate of leaky gut and other things that make them especially sensitive to certain foods. So … he’s a chiropractor. Whatever. If the program works, who cares?  He seems to be keeping good company with the brightest minds in the field of neurological research (Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, for example), so that should speak for itself. Right? Right.

I think the other thing that we really struggle with now is hope. Seriously. I know that sounds crazy, but our life has already changed in quiet but amazing ways with the dietary changes we’ve made. What if we can expect more? What if we are able to stop focusing on behavior modification (which is completely discouraging and exhausting for all of us) and address the functional disconnect underlying this behavior? It’s exciting and terrifying, but we feel as though we have to try and give our son every possible opportunity to be his best self. So we’ll keep you posted …

19 Comments

  1. Thanks for this provocative article, Natalie. I forwarded it along to family and friends who are in the midst of ADHD, Asperger’s and Tourettes. I have also forwarded it to our local Tummy Temple, where healing “leaky gut” in their form of spiritual contribution to the world of healing. Namaste’, Shelley Glendenning

    • Thanks Shelley – great to get the positive feedback, and thanks for passing it along to others who will get value from it. There nothing like holistic thinking to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. :) If you haven’t read it, you might also enjoy another earlier post called Wheat Belly, which explains some of the science behind why I and my son are now both on a gluten-free diet.

  2. Read your article and this program sounds interesting. Lea’s children have had a small taste of that theory when they had a teacher in fifth grade Mr. Hangman. When we went to grandparents day at school he explained how he tries to teach the children to use both sides of the brain. I think we should do more studies on this. I hope the program helps your son. I can’t wait to hear more.

  3. Have you pursued Brain Balance any further? I have a 4.5 year old on the spectrum and I’m considering it. Curious to hear your feedback. Thanks. :)

    • Hi Linda – yes! Our son just finished the first twelve weeks and we had him tested against the baseline this weekend. I’ll have results later this week, so I’d be happy to chat with you following that. Natalie

      • Hi Natalie, I am also very interested in your experience. I have a 7 year old on the spectrum as well. If we could chat offline even, that would be most appreciated. Thanks!

        • Esther – our son just completed his first twelve weeks and the requisite testing. Based on that we’re going to enroll his for a second twelve-week program. At that point they believe he’ll be done. I’m happy to tell you more about our experience! Natalie

  4. Message
    Hi Natialie, I was happy to read that Brain Balance was so positive for you. I was wondering if you’d share some additonal information, either directly or via a post.
    Please only share what you feel comfortable with…but some of the things I’d like to know about include:
    -Age and Diagnosis (my son is 4.5, HFA)
    Did you see any improvements in the following:
    Flexiblity
    Social skills/interactions
    Focus
    Awareness in settings with lots of stimulus
    Speech
    Decreased preoccupation (for my son it’s trains)
    Empathy/perspective taking/theory of mind
    Decrease frustration for challenging tasks
    Eating improvements

    AND, what were the greatest benefits from your perspective?

    I really appreciate any feedback. Thanks again and take care,
    Linda

    • Hi Linda – I’m glad to share more, though in the interest of giving my son *some* semblance of privacy, I’ll drop you an email! :) Natalie

  5. Hi Natalie,
    I just learned about Brain Balance the other day from a coupon site, and decided to do a little research … and found your site. I would love to learn more about your experience with your son … in particular what goes on during the 12 week therapy. … the types of activities/exercises, etc. I’m considering the program for my 15 yr old son.

    • Tracy – of course, I’d be happy to do that! I heard from another mom that the Contact Me isn’t working. You can send me an email at ndhanthro at yahoo dot com and I’ll tell you a bit more about our experiences. Natalie

  6. I’ve just read this book – any luck anybody? My son is 16. His problems with ADD have haunted him all his life. I’ve searched for ways to help him and would love to know your experiences. Cheers!

    • Wendy – Thanks for your interest! I’m happy to talk with you more about our experience at Brain Balance … though our boys are 4 and 6. I’ll send you an email, since I don’t want to expose more of their personal details here than needed here. Natalie

  7. I, too, would love to know the results of the initial test, post 12 week treatment, and anything you can share about what goes on for the 12 weeks. I have both books and am intrigues for my 3 year old autistic girl. I just know that my hubby will say it is finacially impossible for us.

    • Sorry for the delay in responding, Elise. I had a hacker attack on my blog and am just getting back up to speed again …

      We did have results, though the changes were quite subtle, and our son also received special services through our school district, so the changes couldn’t be solely attributed to BB.

      As to whether we would recommend it or not? I think that’s deeply personal, as it’s expensive, and for us it was a huge disruption in our home routine. It was a hard decision! But we did experience changes and the standardized tests results we received after each session corroborated that.

  8. And it never occurred to you that they are the ones that create the tests, administer the tests and reevaluate your child? Brain Balance has repeatedly rebuffed any and all attempts, even if every person, doctor and organization has offered to sign NDAs. There is a reason when a child is mentally ill, there is a “psych team”. It generally consists of a pediatrician (MD), therpaist, neuropsychologist (medical training), neuropsychiarist (even more medical training) and days and days of testing for intelligence, processes, etc. Because an hour in time is an hour in time. Any parent of a mentally ill child can tell you that there are some hours, some days, or even weeks where their child has trouble functioning at school, then they just zoom up one day. Further, if there are even more serious issues, you will add information and testing from OT’s, PT’s, BT’s, etc. Because not only can you not measure a child with the tests Brain Balance measures, their tests aren’t tests. They aren’t administered by even the same standards. One parent in one franchise has taken her child to a different one under a different name for an “evaluation” after her child completed the program the first time to “prove everyone wrong”. You know what the other center found? The new center rated her son lower than the first did before they started! (City Data forums, I do not know if it’s appropriate to post links so I’ll leave the source.) Which means one of two things: that her child, who supposedly gained umpteen grade levels in 12 weeks at the first center somehow regressed to an even worse situation after leaving the Center -OR- the tests are so horribly designed they are based solely on personal interpretation – that that administration and interpretation is not given by anyone who has attended a single class in mental health. They are barely minimum wage workers.

    If I take a tape measure and hold it loose around your waist – are you really 40 inches? If I wave my arms around you, chant a little chant and hold it tight on the next measurement and it says 34″ – have you really lost weight?

    If I told you I was a Doctor in astronumerical therapy… am I a doctor qualified to treat a mentally ill child?

    The IQ test initially given is not the same as you would get from any qualified neuropsychologist or neuropsychiatrist (though “Dr.” Melillo purports his is a “chiro neuro” – a field that doesn’t exist in medical science).

    If I ask your child to initially answer 10+11 and he answers 30 but the next test I ask 2+2 and he answers 4, has this “increased” his processes to do math? No, I just asked easier questions. Their “grade level” assessments aren’t even remotely up to the state standards where your child would be in a functioning public school, let alone the advanced curriculum in private schools. Furthermore, they don’t measure any substantial markers in a child. Do you know how silly adults look when they crawl? That’s because we don’t do it, we grew up, we evolved. In fact, forcing the child into this “neonatal testing” – tests that measure capabilities of a newborn (yes, they are using this and applying it as high as teenagers) can actually regress them in their travels. If you finally get off the bottle and give your child a cup, do you go back to the bottle when they have trouble sipping through a straw? No.

    I have evaluated the treatments many parents have claimed (including “curing autism” – something Melillo had to remove from his marketing materials by law). Things like “crawl therapy” with a lot of science-y sounding words with no actual scientific definition by stating the child’s brain stem didn’t grow enough because they didn’t crawl enough. Vision “therapy” that can induce permanent vision impairment in children is serious business. A few optometrists have raised very, very serious lifelong damage concerns with their “single eye dilation” exercises.

    Further, even if I could overlook all the above, the fact that Melillo won’t open a single center for observation or evaluation, does NOT accept any kids with defined issues and has a higher acceptance rate for those who have no services prior (meaning, no other therapies attempted), and even if I could accept that for whatever reason giving yourself a title from your own “school” you incorporated that has no school facilities – the fact he has hired an expensive NY PR firm should thrown some serious, serious questions out.

    Let’s forget the long ago debunked science of “left brain, right brain”, especially since we have the advanced technology with imaging scans showing the connections and both “sides” of brains work at processing even a single sound and the information travels over ventricles, the corpus callosum and multiple other electric pathways.

    If you buy into this therapy, you would have to buy into the centuries old belief that deaf kids are stupid.

    As it should be noted, you also mentioned his text on Einstein. His text is a complete fabrication, as it, a single word of it is completely untrue and he falsified this info on Einstein to make him appear more credible.

    Einstein = Biography website
    “Einstein attended elementary school at the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich, where he excelled in his studies. He enjoyed classical music and played the violin. However, he felt alienated and struggled with the rigid Prussian education he received there. He also experienced a speech difficulty, a slow cadence in his speaking where he’d pause to consider what to say next.

    Einstein would write about two events that had a marked effect on his childhood. One was an encounter with a compass at age five, where he marveled at the invisible forces that turned the needle. The other was at age 12, when he discovered a book of geometry which he read over and over.”

    First, that tells you he had no academic struggles outside of the structure (he left there to attend school in another country) and he DID speak before he was 7, he spoke slowly. It was found that he did so to do something no normal child did, he thought before he spoke but it certainly didn’t mean he “didn’t speak”. In fact, as far as speaking and other normal childhood development, he was typical. It had nothing to do with a “learning disability”. He didn’t have one and he was reading geometry books in early childhood. At his time, those were considered “abnormal”, we obviously know better now that he was a masterfully contemplating genius. Even he knew it, he wrote of it often. What Melillo is using as his basis is literally a century old evaluation of other children who displayed “not understandable atypical actions”. How many 5 year old kids would you believe were actually studying a geometry book, even now? In other words, he displayed genius tendancies from the start, not that he was “average” until he started hearing music. (The now-debunked “Einstein Academy” CD’s that were pushed on new parents can help you more with that.)

    “This paradox led him to write his first “scientific paper” at age 16, “The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields.

    Albert was left at a boarding house in Munich to finish his education at the Luitpold Gymnasium.

    Fortunately, Einstein was able to apply directly to the Eidgenössische Polytechnische Schule (Swiss Federal Polytechnic School) in Zürich, Switzerland. Lacking the equivalent of a high school diploma, he failed much of the entrance exam but got exceptional marks in mathematics and physics. Because of this, he was admitted to the school provided he complete his formal schooling first. He went to a special high school run by Jost Winteler in Aarau, Switzerland, and graduated in 1896 at age 17.”

    He completed school, even early after he left to dodge the military service. In other words, not only did he miss more than a year of school (completely unrelated to his intelligence), he then completed it after scoring exceptionally well on college entrance exams.

    You can get deeper into his life with many biographies, but by no means was he “so lost he worked at the patent office”. He worked there because he couldn’t get a job as his teachers hated he was smarter than they were, thus refused to give him a good recommendation, and his citizenship issues dogged him for a few years, even still, while working there, he finished his doctorate – not graduate, that’s an American thing – which included his Theory of Relativity (it didn’t happen “several years after”), it was quite literally part of his thesis to get his degree.

    You can read the autopsy reports, I won’t get into gory or scientific details but his brain DID have physical abnormalities as well – it wasn’t some “electrical pathways” or “synapses” junk either (which the synapses could not have even been measured post mortem). Furthermore, the enlarged areas crossed both parts of the brain, not “left brain/right brain” stuff. He had several enlarged areas in his brain and some basic and initial comparisons concluded some of the areas were actually too small! (Tangent: Interesting stuff if you ever decide to read up on it.)

    If Melillo fails this basic “BS meter” test on quite easily proven information such as Einstein’s life, how in the world can he possibly – as a chiropractor – get a reliable program for mentally ill kids? If he can’t research arguably the most noted scientist in history, how in the world can he research methodology? What else is he lying about? It’s one thing to lie about his credentials (he has NO ties to Harvard and his one text mentioned there was a cautionary tale in how it was a scam), it’s even another to lie about all the “research” that doesn’t exist or is a century old. But lying about something so readily available as Einstein’s life? Takes a special money grubbing narcissist.

    • Hi Mary – thanks for your perspective. Admittedly, when you want to do everything possible to help your child be successful, it’s hard to look objectively at these things. I wasn’t aware of all the background you shared, but I’m approving your reply for the benefit of others who have asked me for feedback on the program. Natalie

      • Hi Natalie,
        My daughter who is 6 years has ADHD. Our main issue is the focus. We are going for evaluation at brain balance but I am very skeptical about it. Is it possible I can chat with you for few minuets to get your feedback on that program before enrolling in.
        Thank you

    • Good afternoon, Saddened:
      I would agree with you, regarding this program’s tendency to “embellish, distort or otherwise skew” information it delivers as fact.
      In all fairness, I have only just begun my research into this organization. However, what I have observed thus far – ( i.e.unabashed use of self ordained diagnosis’, which he must view himself omnipotent enough, as to be above the hum drum processes of scientific/medical validity, generally expected when one presents a hypothesis for a newly discovered/proposed diagnosis ~ then there was the grossly inaccurate rendition of Einstein’s early life and education ~ something to the effect of the “marked abundance of synoptic activity Einstein’s post mortem brain – My apologies, It really is not my intent to mock but…. seriously? As though there were rapid-fire synapse activity rocking out in a deceased brain… Really?etc.)
      It goes without saying, that this company is not doing much in the way of instilling confidence in prospective client’s about BB’s competence.

      That being said, Sad, When a child’s processing/memory skills are not on par, in addition to having a severe math LD, EFD, ADHD, MD ETC. But yet maintaining average or in some cases higher than average in some levels/branches of his IQ and having been evaluated, tested, counseledby abundant and highly accredited psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist ( confirmed that issues were not neurological in nature ), behavioralist etc. etc., for many years, and to no avail.
      What would you recommend, as viable alternate avenue of pursuit, for these dedicated parents, like myself, who are desperately searching for some semblance of relief for these hurting children, when conventional wisdom simply is not working?
      As for my son and I – after a decade of unrelenting research and persevering through each and every medically sound option under the sun, we have yet to progress past the drawing board. My son will turn fifteen years old in a matter of days and we are no closer than when we initially began searching for answers pre-K… I would be internally grateful for any suggestions outside the box or otherwise that you may have, saddened, or any other of your parents going through similar things that may offer me an idea I have not tried, yet…
      Again I am thankful for any ideas :0)
      Not sure how often I may come back to this site, so if anybody has any questions about what I have learned through my journey or any of y’all are able to offer me a suggestion… I can be reached at: Shanamlowe gmaildotcom

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