You are looking at Natalie’s brain. Cool, huh?
More accurately, you are looking at a visual representation, an electroencephalogram or EEG, of a snippet of Natalie’s brain wave activity in one specific area of her brain which was done around the time school started this year in early August. As I talked about in this post, Natalie started doing neurofeedback in late May to help with the mood and behavior problems she was having. This snapshot is of her EEG after twice weekly neurofeedback sessions for a little over 3 months.
At the bottom of this very bad cell phone photo (sorry!), you can see several sessions squeezed together. It is important to note the colors of the waves. Each brain wave corresponds to a different color, and the height of the wave spikes are the amplitude of her brain waves. Notice how sometimes the yellow is higher than the others; sometimes the pink is on top, and sometimes the waves are much higher than others. There is so much dysregulation in this photo. At the top of the photo, you can see that during this session in August, the pink wave is on top, the green is in the middle and the yellow is at the bottom. All summer, the focus was to try to get these waves in this order. They were completely flip-flopped when Natalie started neurofeedback in May. However, also notice how “spiky” the waves are. They look like mountains, and that still needed some work. Although Natalie still had improvements to make, we were feeling pretty good about where she was.
Then school started.
Natalie did NOT have a good start to school this year. One of the issues of brain dysregulation is inflexibility, and transitioning from being home all summer with me to going back to school this year was incredibly difficult for her. For the first time ever, she didn’t want to go to school. She came home extremely unhappy, and didn’t want to leave my side. Like, she didn’t want to let me out of her sight…ever. She started having huge tantrums again and it seemed like everything made her angry. She had a huge amount of anxiety and started falling apart in front of our eyes, all over again. Then she started misbehaving at school, in big ways that made the former teacher in me go WOAH. She had never misbehaved at school, and we were at a loss for what to do at that point.
As I started sharing all this with Natalie’s therapist, she brought up something she had been considering for quite some time about Natalie. Natalie’s reaction to going back to school solidified in her mind that her theory was a big possibility. I plan to write more about it in another post, but Natalie’s therapist shared that Natalie has most of the characteristics of Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD). Basically, children who go through traumas while their brains are still developing, up until the age of 5 or 6, do not fit the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is the “bible” of disorders that psychiatrists use to diagnose patients. DTD is not an official diagnosis, however, because it has not yet been included the DSM.
It didn’t matter that she didn’t have a diagnosis-we just wanted to know how to help her. There are no drug recommendations for DTD (not that medication would have been our first course of action anyway!) The tools that are recommended to deal with DTD are neurofeedback (whoop-we were doing one thing right!), yoga, relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, and other exercises that connect her back to the sensations in the body and teach her to relax, such as meditation.
Once Laura, Natalie’s therapist, pointed us in this direction, things made a huge, swift change for the better. After we were in agreement, Laura changed her focus during Natalie’s neurofeedback sessions. Natalie and I have gone to several yoga classes together. We started doing something called Heart Math with Natalie at home to help her learn to calm her breathing. We even redecorated her bedroom to make it a calmer, more soothing place for her to be. We are continuing to add tools to Natalie’s toolkit to help her calm herself down in the moment and reconnect with her body.
Two and a half months later, this is what Natalie’s brain looks like now in the exact same spot:
This is what it should look like. It’s not “perfect,” but seriously…..can I tell you that this is absolutely one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my entire life?!? Can you picture me turning cartwheels at how stinking amazing this is for Natalie? What this means for the rest of her life? This is just a comparison from August, after 3 months of neurofeedback, until now. I wish I had thought to take a photo early on of her EEG, but just imagine the difference between May and now.
I mean, take a look side-by-side, August 2015 to Today:
What does this look like in real life? She is sleeping better than she has ever slept. She is waking up happy. She is coming home from school HAPPY. Her reactions to things are much less explosive, if she even gets worked up at all. When she does get upset or frustrated, it is much easier to help her calm down. She is cheerfully playing with her friends and seeking them out instead of hiding away all the time. The little girl we knew was hiding under all that pain, who would make fleeting appearances here and there, is finally emerging. She is wickedly funny, crazy smart, super kind and generous, ridiculously observant and joyful. She is always going to be our sensitive girl, but we are teaching her to see that as a positive thing. She has the whole rest of her life to look forward to!
And for the time being, Natalie is DONE with neurofeedback! WOOT! Now that it knows what it is supposed to do, her brain will continue to regulate itself over the next 6-12 months, so she should continue to make improvements. It is possible that we may have to take her back in periodically for a “tune-up,” and Laura has already let us know that puberty is a time when kids often have to come back in to do more neurofeedback. But for now, she is exactly where she needs to be.
A couple of things to note. Laura was incredibly supportive of Natalie’s diet. She continued to stress to me that a well nourished brain is so much easier to work with than a brain fed a diet of processed or low-nutrient density food. In fact, the one time Natalie got “glutened” this summer, Laura could tell on Natalie’s EEG and asked me about it before I thought to say anything to her about it. Also, this process was lengthy and expensive-but SO worth it to us. The time and money we invested was all in the last few months, not dragged out over the course of years in the form of continued office visits and medications. We worked to find the root cause of her symptoms and to treat the cause, not to put a band-aid on her symptoms.
To us, it was worth it. We feel like we have our daughter back!