Q&A: Neurofeedback doctor, mom discusses brain-based treatments that help kids
Posted November 8, 2015
This month, Dr. Patricia Leigh of the Chapel Hill Brain Centre will lead a discussion about how Montessori education harnesses the natural way children learn.
Dr. Leigh, a mom of five, will present on the different types of learners and how each types brain is functioning, including children with learning challenges or ADHD, gifted learners, and those with anxiety.
The event takes place at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 17, at Pinewoods Montessori in Hillsborough. Parents, caregivers and their children are invited to attend. It's free, but registration is required. More information is on Pinewoods' website. Childcare will be provided.
I checked in with Leigh to learn more about her practice as a board certified neurofeedback doctor and neurodevelopmental specialist. Here's our email conversation.
Go Ask Mom: Tell us about yourself and your work.
Patricia Leigh: I am the proud mother of five young children. My first four kids are all a year apart, now 12, 11, 10, and 9 years old and “bonus baby” as I call her was born on my fourth son’s fourth birthday, which means she just turned 5. Our family is the most amazing crew a different personalities and we have a blast with them. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to (try to) raise them into incredible human beings.
We live and practice in Chapel Hill. We are new to the community, just two years now having moved from (cold and snowy) Buffalo, N.Y. I have been a college professor for quite some time, so I think it is the wealth of amazing universities in this area that made me want to move to Chapel Hill years ago.
I am a Board Certified Neurofeedback Doctor and a Neurodevelopmental Specialist with varied degrees in fields of child development and disorders, cognitive science and education. In my practice, which we have just renamed Chapel Hill Brain Centre (because we have added services and doctors), I serve children with ADHD, learning disabilities and other related challenges, like anxiety. I use the most cutting edge brain-based treatments that actually improve the way a child’s brain is performing. Most people are not aware that child development issues are often caused by imbalances in the use of the brain’s energy. It is called neurological dysregulation. This energy can be regulated, into an ideal pattern which I have affectionately named “The Green Zone." When a brain is being used well, actually really well, the neuro-diagnostic evaluation I perform, the qEEG Brain Map, will show up as all green. When this occurs, the difficulties that plague their kids’ lives will be alleviated.
The primary service I offer, because it is so effective, is neurofeedback. It is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a Best Level Support for ADHD and is a Best Level Support endorsed by the American Psychological Association for its clinical efficacy. My mission is to help families that do not want to put their children on medication or are a looking to get their children off medications due to the harmful side effects. My services are ideal for those families who want a natural, permanent solution to their child’s difficulties.
The first thing I do is obtain a qEEG Brain Map of a child’s brain performance. It informs how we will proceed in treating the weaknesses of that particular child’s brain. It is so measurable and effective in determining what a child’s brain needs to perform better and is the perfect first step toward finding the solution.
Kids love coming to our office. One child wanted to have his birthday party with his friends getting neurofeedback treatment in our group training suite. I loved it, it cracked me up. I had to inform him that we do not do that (yet!).
GAM: Kids don't all learn in the same ways. What are the different types of learners?
PL: There are many different types of learners such as visual learners, auditory learners, and tactile-proprioceptive learners. What is more important is that most children learn in a wide variety of ways combining the various strategies and using one or more as needed. For example, some children need to write down what they are hearing and seeing to best learn, some need silence while others enjoy engagement during learning, some need to move while learning others prefer a chair and desk, still others need frequent breaks while their peer needs long blocks of concentration. The list of differences and preferences goes on and on. The same is true for adults at work. Each person’s brain has patterns that help us, on an individual basis, to think and perform at our best.
GAM: How is it helpful for parents to understand these differences so they can help their kids?
PL: It is helpful for parents to know how their child’s brain is performing to inform them of what type of learning environment and interaction style is optimal for their child’s peak performance. The key to helping our children to be successful is figuring out their needs and then making the changes necessary to push them in the right direction. Many times this can be hard for parents, especially if their child has any type of learning challenge. In my crew of five at home, I have all different kinds of learners, fast ones, slow ones, all types of styles. I am constantly taking my own advice (probably to their teachers’ dismay) and really contemplate how I can serve their learning needs as they grow and develop.
GAM: How can this knowledge help children with different kinds of issues - maybe they have ADHD, anxiety or learning challenges?
PL: Knowing how your child’s brain is performing is crucial for parents of kids with ADHD, anxiety or learning challenges. A main point I try to communicate to parents in my office is empathy. Parents have to understand that learning challenges and associated behaviors like difficulty focusing, hyperactivity, and anxiousness serve a particular need of the brain. The need is born out of the child’s brain performance. For example, hyperactivity stimulates a brain that is performing too slowly. This is the opposite of what many parents think, but it is true. Anxious behaviors serve to purge a brain that is being held in a chronically fast state. I am trained to identify profiles that have come out of 50 years of research that can explain what the brain is doing and why. What parents can take away is that if their child is struggling or is using any of these behaviors, they are not choosing to do so, which may or may not be obvious to them, but it is their brain that is making them do so.
GAM: You are a proponent of Montessori education. How does that approach help different kinds of learners?
PL: I am a proponent of any educational philosophy that fundamentally believes in identifying each child’s unique set of strengths and challenges and using that information to develop each and every child into the very best version of themselves. Many traditional schools do not value this idea as much as they should. Dr. Maria Montessori inherently knew the value of creating an environment that fosters each child’s learning using their preferred learning styles as the child sees fit. Montessori education seeks to develop kids through all the senses and modalities and at an unhurried, natural pace for the child. That pace is one that is between boredom and anxiety and tries puts the brain into its peak performance state for learning, “The Green Zone”.
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