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New Therapy for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

There has been a lot of concern about over-prescription of drugs to treat childhood disorders like attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Now an unusual new therapy may provide an alternative. Dr. Emily Senay explains.

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder characterized by inattentiveness, impulsiveness, and sometimes hyperactivity. Now some therapists are using the same principle as a musician's metronome to provide relief.

David Singer, age 12, has ADHD, but if you were to watch him in the classroom these days, you might not be able to tell.

His special education teacher Christina Liga knows the disorder well. "In the past David would need a personal secretary to keep him organized," says Liga.

But lately Liga has seen improvement in Singer. "David's been more organized; he's really needed the assistance of a teacher less and less," says Liga. "I've seen him really show less and less of the ADHD symptoms."

Those who know Singer say his improvement is the result of interactive metronome therapy. Based on the same principle as the metronome used by musicians to keep a beat, the interactive metronome was developed to improve the poor physical coordination that often accompanies ADHD.

Unexpectedly, Singer's mental abilities--like organization, concentration, and language skills--improved along with physical ones. It's not clear exactly why.

"I really think the metronome has given him the ability to progress in all subject areas," says Liga.

Now Singer is a mentor and model to the other kids in his class. "A couple years ago, I couldn't concentrate on anything. I was like staring off into space, but now it has made me more aware of what's happening around so I can concentrate better," says Singer.

It's important to note that there are more than a few occupational therapists who have seen these kinds of results, although the data is preliminary at this stage. For parents who are concerned about their children taking drugs for ADHD, it can't hurt to try this initially and see if it helps.

How does the therapy work?

Brain scans have shown that the parts of the brain that control physical timing also seem to be involved with ADHD. But since we don't fully understand the cause of ADHD, it may be a long time until we fully understand how interactive metronome therapy actually works.

Does this therapy replace existing therapies for ADHD?

No. More study is needed for a start. And since it's been used for the most part in conjunction with other therapies, it is probably best to use it as a supplement to other approaches like special education, physical therapy, or drugs like Ritalin.

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