Be Aware of These Nine Questionable Clinics

John Watson

Disclosures

August 20, 2018

In This Article

For caregivers of children with developmental disorders, the lack of clarity around why these conditions occur and how to best treat them can be maddening. Brain Balance Achievement Center is a growing company that says it can offer desperate parents answers to these questions. This June, National Public Radio (NPR) published the result of a year-long reporting effort into Brain Balance that offers much to be wary of with this "new theory of the brain."[23]

Brain Balance is a nonmedical, drug-free program for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, and other developmental disorders. It posits that such disorders occur when areas of the brain are electrically unbalanced or out of sync. They claim imbalances of the right hemisphere, the seat of emotions, can cause autism and ADHD, and imbalances of the left hemisphere, where our capacity for logic is housed, can cause learning disorders.

Brain Balance offers a tailored three-part intervention consisting of conventional academic exercises; nutritional advice, such as decreasing gluten and sugar intake; and sensory motor training. The third element is said to apply physical exercises and stimuli that emphasize the side of the body contralateral to the "unbalanced" hemisphere. In a child whose left hemisphere is thought to be the culprit, the right side of the body may be subject to visual, auditory, or physical stimuli, such as vibrations to the arm.

The experts NPR spoke with said there was limited rationale beyond this concept, because nearly all activities engage both hemispheres of the brain. They also noted that the concept of sole hemispheric control of emotions and logic has been discredited.[23]

This treatment comes at a cost, which can run to more than $10,000 in a 6-month span. These fees have helped drive Brain Balance's growth since its founding 12 years ago by the licensed chiropractor Robert Melillo. The business now encompasses over 110 franchises in the United States, collectively generating $50 million in annual revenue.[23]

Two published studies in children with attention-deficit disorder/ADHD support Brain Balance's efficacy. The first included 122 children, 81% of who experienced significant improvements in testing for a variety of educational outcomes after a 12-week program.[24] The study has been criticized for not including a control group and for having parents assess their own children's improvements. The second study reused the first one's results but added a comparative control group of children with ADHD who didn't undergo the 12-week program.[25] The study was nonrandomized, and important differences existed between the cohorts, such as the rate of those receiving medication for their condition.

The majority of the families contacted by NPR did report being happy with Brain Balance, and glowing testimonial abound online. The company's website notes that surveyed customers rated their satisfaction at 8.5 on a 10-point scale.

A third study of Brain Balance is currently under way with a concurrent control group of children. It is being operated by a research team with no stated financial interest in Brain Balance. In speaking with Bloomberg Businessweek, the lead researcher said encouraging improvements have been noted to date in the unpublished study.[26]

Even if this study is successful in proving Brain Balance is doing something beneficial, it may not make much of a difference to families that currently use this program.

As Melillo told NPR, "Parents and families are out there struggling and suffering. They don't really give a crap about the data or the research, to be honest. They care about, 'What are you going to do for my kid?' When they go through it and they see the difference in their child, that's what matters to them."[23]

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