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ADD/ADHD and Brain Gym

by Jon Pederson, M.A.

When I met Jeff, he was nervous, easily distracted, had difficulty staying focused and was uncooperative. He was part of a school program in which five first graders, who exhibited characteristics of ADD/ADHD, completed Brain Gym sessions at school and did the same activities at home with their families. In meeting with Jeff's mother, she mentioned that there had been some acute family challenges and that she would do whatever she could to help Jeff. She agreed to do five to ten minutes of Brain Gym activities with him every day. I worked with him for one hour once a week for six weeks. During each session, Jeff created his own goal and then did Brain Gym activities to help him achieve each goal.

When the eight-week Brain Gym program was complete, this is what Jeff's mother said about her son. "He is calmer and much more focused. He does not get bored and frustrated like he used to. He's eager to participate in family activities, like hiking and bicycling. When we have workday, he does more than he needs to do. His whole attitude has calmed down. He has had a total change in his ability to concentrate. His endurance is better. He rode his bike for five miles -- something he could never do before Brain Gym. Before with roller-blading he would say, "I can't do this" and get discouraged. Now he roller blades for two hours after school. He plays games better. Before in Monopoly he wanted the houses right away. Now he can wait his turn. We do ten minutes of Brain Gym every day. I see the results. I want him to have Brain Gym next year."

The most impressive improvements related to the symptoms of ADD/ADHD come when a family cooperates in developing a healthy diet, learns to deal effectively with stress, has fun together, nurtures each other and uses movement activities, like Brain Gym, to change old patterns. When family members, like Jeff and his mother are stressed and anxious, their systems are out of balance and their brain patterns have down shifted into lower, survival brain areas, apart from the prefrontal cortex. Based on the most recent research, the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain with the most impact on focus, attention, impulse control and decision-making. These are the very aspects of behavior that children and family members with ADD/ADHD characteristics find difficult.

The twenty-six movements and activities of Brain Gym can be applied to specific, stressful family behaviors and interactions that inhibit healthy relationships. These activities improve family interactions while strengthening the neural connections throughout the entire brain/central nervous system, including into and through the prefrontal cortex. When more neural pathways are opened and developed into the prefrontal lobes through very specific movement, the individual's mind/body system works with greater ease and harmony. Children like Jeff are then better able to relax, focus, attend to what is going on, control impulses, think about consequences and make good decisions. Parents notice that they, as well as their children become more calm, focused, and cooperative. Family members learn that when they relax, play and do integrative movement together, they change old, limiting patterns of interaction.

Research has also determined that a high percentage of children or adults who exhibit ADD/ADHD type behavior have experienced ear or yeast infections, other diseases, food allergies, or verbal abuse. These experiences have led to blocked neural development for being able to hear and process auditory information quickly and accurately. These children find it difficult to hear and understand what is being communicated. Their auditory system is inefficient and slow in its processing. They simply are unable to take in information, process it and act upon it with ease. For instance, in a classroom situation, because they cannot understand the directions given by the teacher, they will become frustrated, either tuning out or acting out. The specific listening activities of Brain Gym stimulate the auditory systems of the brain, building neural nets through or around weak or blocked neural connections. As this occurs, children are more able to listen and act upon auditory input in an efficient and integrated manner. As they understand and act upon what they hear, learning and behavior improves.

Another primary cause of fidgety, hyperactive behavior is due to an unintegrated symmetric tonic neck reflex. In normal development this reflex is matured or competed by age two. If, however, the child fails to do enough crawling, this reflex remains active, causing involuntary movements that interfere with the child gaining control over the body. An immature STNR makes it difficult for the child to sit still at a desk or chair and interferes with postures required for reading and writing. The child cannot relax, fidgets frequently and finds it very difficult to get comfortable. Often the child will slouch with legs straight out, sit in a chair with feet tucked under the body or hook their feet around the legs of the chair. These children squirm, are easily distracted and often do not finish their homework or put down any answer just to get done. The more failure they experience, the more they tend to avoid written work. By doing Brain Gym activities, including repatterning processes, the crawling stage is soon completed and the STNR becomes integrated. Subsequently, the child can sit still, focus, attend and complete written school much more quickly and comfortably.

Though Brain Gym movements by themselves can assist children and adults in improving relationships and building whole-brain integration, the Brain Gym five-step balance process achieves the most outstanding results. This is the process that I took Jeff through at school. First, a three to five minute process called PACE helps to relax and prepare the person for the most optimum brain/body restructuring. Then, with the help of a Brain Gym instructor, the child or adult aligns with his or her inner drive to improve. This goal setting activity helps the individual feel more motivated and eager to create positive change. Next, the instructor leads the child or adult through a role-play to activate the old, ineffective pattern of behavior. Once this occurs, the person completes a series of Brain Gym activities that change the old pattern by releasing stress and opening and building neural pathways. For instance, initially Jeff had great difficulty doing cross-lateral movements and tracking with his eyes. He also experienced difficulty sitting still and focusing on a task. So we tailored the activities to Jeff's challenges. The natural rewiring of his brain created a more relaxed, focused and integrated mind/body system. After the Brain Gym activities are completed, the child or adult repeats the role-play and notices the changes. In order to reinforce the more effective, restructured brain/behavior pattern, the individual, as was the case with Jeff, is given some key movements to do each day at home.

Parenting in our society is extremely challenging. Often the bond between a parent and a new baby fails to be established and other factors, such as maternal depression, financial concerns, separation through childcare or divorce, alcoholism, and abuse create ongoing stress and anxiety in children. Chaos in the family reinforces hyperactive behavior and an overuse of television, video games and substitute caregivers exacerbates the situation. Children need acceptance, unconditional love, nurturing and attention from their parents. When parents and children play and move together in a climate of love and acceptance, they develop whole-brain integration, heart-to-heart connection, more trust, better cooperation and begin to release their stress and anxiety. As this happens, the anxious, hyperactive, or non-responsive family behaviors begin to transform. Brain Gym activities and related games or activities offer an easy-to-use, supportive way of greatly improving family life.

For more information about Brain Gymâ„¢, contact the Educational Kinesiology Foundation at 800-356-2109, or via e-mail: or visit their website at

This information is provided by OSPI and New Horizons for Learning,
funded by a development grant from the Discuren Charitable Foundation.

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