Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is Brain Gym Effective?

I frequently get email from people asking me about Brain Gym, so I thought I would post one of the emails here. Identifying details have been changed but the letter is essentially intact as written:


Dear Chris,

My son is 11 years old and in the 6th grade. He has Neurofibromatosis Type 1 which is a neurological disorder that affects his entire nervous system. He has Apraxia of Speech, ADHD, auditory processing issues and learning disabilities. We took him for a speech eval and they suggested sensory integration therapy. This summer, based on recommendations from our speech therapist who is GREAT and one of the few people who have actually been trained to treat Apraxia, we began OT with couple of therapists who do sensory integration therapy and are very much into Brain Gym.

I’m really starting to question whether Brain Gym is effective for us. We’ve only gone a couple of months, but I really don’t see any improvements. My child is social, independent and making progress…he is in a mainstream classroom at school and the special education teachers come into the class to work with him. His handwriting is horrible, he still doesn’t hold a spoon correctly, he can’t button on his own - he has a difficult time with coordination. I’m just trying to get some guidance on the type of therapy he really needs.

We do different exercises every week, but it seems like we should be “practicing” skills more. When I google “Brain Gym” all of the articles rave about it. However, it appears that most of them are written by therapists who use it in their therapies or by people doing training. Any advice? Thanks!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dear Parent,

Thanks for writing.

I have mentioned Brain Gym in my blog in the past and my basic opinion is that Brain Gym is pseudoscientific, unresearched, and experimental.

I am concerned about the claims made on their website. They state that their programs will help you "Learn ANYTHING faster and more easily" and other grandiose claims. According to the website, Brain Gym supposedly helps with outrigger canoe paddling, knitting, public speaking, transcribing tapes in criminal investigations, and overcoming learning challenges. (see http://www.braingym.org/users)

They have what they call a 'research packet' but the vast majority of the articles there are "published" in the 'Brain Gym Journal' which hardly qualifies as a respected, unbiased, peer-reviewed journal. There are a few other articles in there that are published in foreign languages so it is not possible to really evaluate their quality.

I would recommend that you focus your therapy efforts on functional skills training. If your child has difficulty holding a spoon correctly or writing neatly there are some very specific methods that can be used to help. Direct trial practice, correction, and positive reinforcement can go a long way to developing functional living skills. Adaptive methods may also be used if needed.

In addition to the functional skills training the occupational therapist can work on the underlying problems with motor coordination, but I would suggest methods that have what we call "FACE VALIDITY." This means that the intervention "looks like" it is going to address what it is supposed to address. For example, activities to address motor coordination should "look like" ball and target games, fine motor exercises, obstacle courses, etc. This is a good way for parents to assess therapy and I would encourage parents to ASK the therapist the purpose and intent of interventions that don't LOOK LIKE they address the problem.

Parents then need to appraise what the therapist tells them - do some internet research, talk to others, and see if there is evidence to support the intervention. Most importantly, if you are not getting results, talk to the therapist about changing their methods.

Best of luck,

Chris

EDIT 6/29/09 - fixed broken link! http://www.braingym.org/users

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Liz from I Speak of Dreams. Thanks for the straight talk -- my elaboration on your post.

Joanna said...

I googled Brain Gym + Occupational Therapy. I first found and read the article that you show in a hyper link and next found and read your blog as I moved down the list of articles. I am posting here in support of Brain gym. I am a Brain Gym Licensed Instructor and I am an OTR/L (licensed for 18 years). I use and have found amazing progress using Brain Gym "before" we set up our functional skills activities for writing, tieing or 2 and 3 step tasks,listening, etc. What a great combination to use Brain Gym to assist (a student) into a balance and then move into our OT activities for fine motor or trunk/core coordination tasks. The use of Brain Gym "PACE" is one activity that my students ask for and complete successfully (sometimes with some professional task analysis by me/the OTR and application to get the movements we are looking for.) I can work and work and exhause a student to get improved letter formation. However - I would rather, though, start my student with Brain Gym movements, including PACE, and have the student leave a 20-30 min. OT session with success. Also instead of leaving with exhaustion, they leave a bit more balanced than they came in. I sometimes explain to teachers, parents or older students that a "balance" (as might be targeted in Brain Gym) elicits the optimal function of brain and body through Brain Gym movements. I have stories of teachers who "noticed" improvements in students academic performance on the days that a student participated in Brain Gym with me. Just one is about a speach therapist (ST)who reported that a student was struggling in her ST session. When the student came back to class she was just in time for a group activity in Brain Gym (by another more experienced instructor). The ST made time to work with this student within 2 hours after the group Brain Gym experience. WOW she reported that the student "got it" and got it "easily". I just read that comments must be approved by the blog author. I do hope that you post this. Thanks, Keep an open mind. This has been a successful tool for me, my students and even my friends who have humored me then due to success of their own continued to simply do Brain Gym PACE on their own.
Joanna in Ohio

Chris said...

Thanks for your note but I still don't know what "balance" is as you describe it. This lack of scientific specificity is exactly what makes this intervention so questionable.

I understand that your anecdotal evidence seems very powerful to you but as licensed professionals we can not rely only on anecdote when we are developing interventions that we are then asking others to pay for.

Also, as professionals, we have a responsibility for some reasonable rationale behind our interventions if they are not yet fully supported or if they are still being researched. There is no validity in this concept of 'balance' just as there is no real justification to claim that something causes 'amazing' progress.

I expect that if this intervention was so successful and if progress was so amazing that you would not have such a difficult time presenting research that supports it. Instead all we continue to hear is anecdotes - and I believe that we owe our patients/students/etc. much more than anecdotes.

If anyone out there believes in this intervention I encourage them to produce research.

Anonymous said...

Hello.
I to am an OT who works in the school system and want to thank you for seeing past the hype of subjective results.

I have a question for you though: What do you think of SI therapy. Everything I find (research articles) are poorly done and are similar to the brain gym results. I feel it is pseudo science and a placebo (not to say placebos are bad) but to charge $ for the service I feel is wrong.

Chris said...

Click on the 'sensory integration' link under LABELS and you will find all the posts I have written on that topic!

Thanks for reading..

Chris

Christopher Alterio said...

12/2/2013 - Still getting emails on this post - there has been no research on Brain Gym and the general consensus is that this is not a serious program and there is no evidence to support its use.

The website continues to make claims that Brain Gym helps people with learning disabilities, helps elderly people remember how to knit, helps learning how to play the flute, and it even helped someone get a Gold Medal in outrigger canoe paddling.

Our suggestion is to 'paddle' away from Brain Gym as fast as you can.

jobelle villamater said...

Hi! Im just curious about this brain gym... Is Brain gym effective among secondary students especially in mathematics?

Christopher Alterio said...

Dear Jobelle,

Please see my comment above!

Chris