Attention please, it's time for a mind game

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Computer games which respond to children's brain waves are being credited with successfully treating pupils who suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Writing in today's TES, Susan Greenfield describes neurobiofeedback as a "credible technique" for pupils with special needs. But she warns that too little is known about the impact it may have on children's imagination and mood.

Neurobiofeedback involves attaching electrodes to a person's head to measure brain waves. An electroencephalogram - a map of electrical activity in the head - is made. The patient then plays computer games calibrated according to their neural difficulties.

Reaching the desired level of concentration, results in success on the screen. A Pacman figure may move forward or drive a car along a road.

Baroness Greenfield, the celebrity scientist and director of the Royal Institution, writes that the technique "may seem like a product made in heaven" for children with difficulty concentrating.

"However, we do not know what effect enhancing concentration in this way will have on other cognitive skills, on creativity, imagination or mood,"

she said. "Similarly, we do not know to what extent the enhancement in concentration is transferable to other activities."

The technique was introduced in the UK 10 years ago by Surinder Kaur, a neuroscientist based in St Albans. She claims to have a 100 per cent success rate at treating pupils with ADD, so they do not need to take drugs such as Ritalin.

Dr Kaur said she was pleased with Lady Greenfield's interest, but rejected her suggestion that the effects might not be transferable. She said she regularly monitored her young patients in their schools and homes, between sessions, to ensure the benefits of the treatment were reflected in the way they interacted with their family and other children.

"It's important that I see them in school because there is no point in doing any of this unless there is real change where it is needed," Dr Kaur said.

Debbie Blye, 19, began the therapy six years ago when her ADD caused her to fall behind with schoolwork and become withdrawn. She credits it with helping her to gain good GCSE and A-level results and becoming drummer with the band Bee, Bee, See, which has recently been approached by EMI, the record company.

"I remember being irritated at having to sit there with the computer for two hours a week, but my teachers could see the difference in the first month," she said.

"It's definitely helped my creativity. Before, I wouldn't have been able to draw, because I couldn't focus, and I wouldn't have had the confidence to get out the door to audition for the band."


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