Lois and Jack Schwarz
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Pilot Project in Basic Learning Skills for Children


From May of 1994 to October of 1995, the Aletheia Foundation carried out a pilot program for basic learning skills for young children.

One small group of three children with their parents were in the three-year study. During the initial ten weeks of intensive training, instruction in techniques of breathing and perceptualizations, eye movement exercises and use of autogenics to monitor brainwave states were given, along with the principles underlying their use. Each child had one parent who joined them for a one-hour weekly session following the two-hour intensive. Weekly and monthly follow-ups were continued for the remainder of the first year; periodic follow-ups continued for the remainder of the three years. A tremendous growth in self-esteem and better concentration was shown in the first year. All parties were happier and were relating well. The techniques that contributed to relaxation and self-knowledge appeared to be the most effective for growth.


Background



Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a complex psychological problem that requires a flexible approach with a range of options and perspectives for effective treatment. Reductionistic conceptualizations that promote single causative factors and unitary modes of intervention have proven inadequate and, in some cases, detrimental. The interactionist position is a conceptual trend reflecting the increasing consensus that multiple variables in the social and non-social environments of children contribute to ADD.

Hyperactivity is generally defined in the literature as a cluster of behaviors including overactivity, short attention span, low frustration tolerance, impulsivity, distractibility and academic difficulties. Although the clinical pattern of hyperactivity has been noted in scientific writings since the beginning of the century and has been recognized in virtually all areas of the world (Ross & Ross, 1982), it remained a relatively obscure issue until the 1960's (Jellinek, 1981). During the 1970's, scientific interest in the study of hyperactivity expanded tremendously (Douglas, 1976). Over the last half century, as increasing and more structured attempts have been made to manage learning- and behaviorally-deviant children, categories of deviance have evolved. Of these categories, "the most common child psychiatric disability is hyperactivity" (Safer & Allen, 1976).

Hyperactivity is no longer a widely accepted term among professionals, because a high level of inappropriate activity is not considered the primary symptom (Ross & Ross, 1982). The focus has now shifted from motor activity to a neurocognitive perspective. The "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (American Psychiatric Association, 1980) established a more accurate term, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) with and without hyperactivity. The critical common factor is the deficit in attention.

The diagnosis of ADD is most often made during the child's primary school years and is diagnosed ten times as frequently in males than females (American Psychiatric Association, 1980). Lambert, Scanoval, and Sassone (1978) evaluated the prevalence of the disorder among elementary school children and reported rates ranging from one to six percent.


Research Preparation



In preparation for the new project, Lois A. Scheller Schwarz and Jack Schwarz reviewed current research literature in the field and attended a seminar given by Dr. Joel F. Lubar from the University of Tennessee on the subject of EEG, "Diagnostics and Biofeedback for Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders", as well as a workshop with the Research Unit at the Menninger Foundation.

Properly employed EEG biofeedback training, though it is time consuming, can lead to improvements in psychometric test measures, in school performance and to significant changes in EEG measures. EEG biofeedback training needs to be integrated with academic type work and children phased out gradually with a long follow-up period. Suitable EEG instrumentation now available makes this training practical, though expensive in time. Lubar encourages attention to ratio measures, especially alpha/beta ratios.


Summary of Major Conclusions



  1. Learning skills improved in all three children, especially when parents were sharing the same exercises.
  2. The instruments and exercises used were manageable by all participants, including the parents.
  3. Self-esteem of the children as well as the parents increased during the intensive training period as indicated by self-reports and observations made by staff in discussions.
  4. The activities in the program reported as most useful to participants were the breathing techniques, exercises and drawing with two hands. The autogenic and EEG work were also seen as useful.
  5. The activities in the program reported as most interesting to the participants were the breathing techniques and the drawing with two hands.
  6. The 'right' support parent was an important factor in the growth of improved family relationships and self-understanding.
  7. The project staff was reported as being loving, caring, wonderful people working in a friendly atmosphere that generated insight and positive feelings.
  8. The selection of staff is very important, objectivity must be maintained.
  9. The alpha brainwave state was the most difficult in the beginning.
  10. All parties were happier and relating well, empowerment and maturity was taking place.




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