Dr. Robert Melillo says the problem with most programs that deal with neurologically impaired or developmentally disabled children is they are designed to help parents and kids cope with their issues but never address the underlying cause.
A child diagnosed with ADHD, Tourette’s, autism, dyslexia or Asperger’s syndrome may spend the rest of their lives learning skills to mitigate their problems but spend little or no time attempting to remediate it, Melillo says.
“The majority of the people working with these problems every day have no idea what is really happening in the brain and have no idea what the research is,” he said.
As a result, he said, many people feel there is nothing that can be done for children diagnosed with these disorders.
Melillo, a chiropractic neurologist who specializes in childhood neurological disorders, disagrees.
“The idea that these problems cannot be helped on a long term basis doesn’t really fit with what we see in the literature.”
That premise is one of the driving forces behind Melillo’s Brain Balance program designed around the idea that each of those conditions has the same route cause.
The theory revolves around the concept of Functional Disconnection – an imbalance in the connections and function between and within the hemispheres of the brain. If one side of the brain develops more quickly than the other, it can throw a child’s development out of whack, resulting in any number of disorders, including problems with fine motor skills, coordination, and even vision and smell.
To function effectively, Melillo says, both sides of the brain must be equal.
“What we see is that these problems are related to a functional imbalance where certain areas of the brain are growing at a faster rate. It’s a breakdown in communication where areas of the brain are not talking to each other properly,” he said. “Some children have difficulty learning with the left side of the brain and they may have trouble academically or in reading. Other children have trouble with the right side of the brain where they have problems with non-verbal communication where they have trouble reading people. But they are both learning problems and that’s how we address them.
Making them equal is the job of Brain Balance. As part of the program, a child undergoes an in depth evaluation to assess the level of imbalance and a program is designed to strengthen the areas deemed weak. Weak areas might include fine motor skills, spatial relations, or academic skills such as math or reading.
The child then goes through a 12 week program designed to strengthen the areas of the brain not functioning properly. The regimen, which costs $6,000 for each 12 week session, includes both cognitive exercises, such as reading comprehension and motor sensory exercises done simultaneously and directed to the weak areas. Children may need to continue the program for as long as nine months. The program is not medical or and no drugs are involved.
“The goal is to promote balance and allow the two areas of the brain to synchronize- that’s the key,” said Vincent Kiechlin, the director of a Brain Balance center in Pennington, the first to open in New Jersey. “The goal is to bring the child back up to age and grade level in both academic and physical skills.”
Melillo, who holds a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Neuropsychology and is currently completing his PhD in Cognitive Neuropsychology, said his program has helped thousands of children over the past 15 years and his studies back up the claim. One study, published last year in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health looked at 60 children diagnosed with ADHD who had gone through the Brain Balance program. In that study, of which Melillo and two others with a financial interest in the Brain Balance franchise is listed as an author, 82 percent of those children no longer met the criteria for ADHD after 12 weeks.
Critics of that study say it did not include a control group of children not in the program and all of the children were taking medication, throughout the study so ascribing the benefits solely to the program is difficult. The study itself concluded that more research is warranted through a large scale clinical trial.
The challenge, Melillo says, is education. Getting the word out that there is hope for children diagnosed with an array of disorders is the first step that is already underway, he said. The next step he said, is a wider introduction into schools.
“What we want ultimately is for school districts to pay for the program,” he said. “We believe that this will have a substantial cost savings to families and to school systems and to taxpayers while at the same time providing better services.”
The argument he makes for school districts to embrace his program is both moral and economic. He can help children who are currently in special education classes improve learning, he says, and for some the hope is to one day move them into mainstream education programs.
That’s a huge step in itself, Melillo said, but when coupled with the tens of thousands of dollars spent per year to educate each special needs child and the problems experienced by children with unaddressed issues later in life, there is a huge economic benefit that continues well past schooling and into adulthood.
“These are huge savings but what we see now is because of the economy services are being cut dramatically especially special ed. services. So while we’re recognizing that these problems are growing at an epidemic level we are providing less services which doesn’t really make sense,” he said. “What we’re doing is not giving services to the kids that need it, which if anything will make the problem worse.”
For now, Melillo said he is working on introducing pilot programs into schools throughout the country. He has spoken with education officials in New Jersey and hopes to introduce a pilot program here in the near future.
“We believe the best answer is to outsource the special ed. children to us,” Melillo said. “We are not looking to compensate we are looking to remediate these problems. In doing that we believe it’s a significant cost savings to the family but also to the school district and the taxpayer.”