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Tuesday, 30 December 2008 10:32

Alice in Neuroland - Page 10

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Ayers mostly specialized in brain injury. Desperate people, many in wheelchairs, found their way to her door. She taught them to inhibit the slow waves that are signatures of brain injury and to amplify production of beta waves--a slightly faster speed than Sterman's Sensory Motor Rhythm. Many of her clients reduced their muscle tremors or began to speak or feed themselves. Word spread. Ayers moved to a charming and eccentric building on Beverly Hills' fancy Canon Drive that had once housed Will Rogers's film studio. She works there to this day, enjoying a powerful but sub-rosa reputation as a miracle worker to ordinary Angelenos and the occasional movie star.

Ayers's results, dramatic though they sometimes were, drew little attention from established psychology, neurology, or medicine. An unsanctioned irregular, she was part of no established professional community, practicing a hybrid, orphan discipline, with no credentials beyond voluntary biofeedback certification and her own growing reputation. Had she not crossed paths with a distraught and equally unconventional couple named Siegfried and Sue Othmer in 1985, it's likely that neurofeedback would have remained a curiosity, a sort of therapeutic Veg-O-Matic, promising wonders but practically unavailable outside a few university labs and a quirky office in Beverly Hills.

The Othmers didn't come to Ayers to sell themselves as promoters. They came because they were contemplating putting their 17-year-old son, Brian, into residential treatment. Brian had been deprived of oxygen at birth and was born blue. In the Middle Ages, he'd have been called possessed. Today he'd probably be labeled bipolar or as suffering from a combination of Tourette's disorder, epilepsy, Asperger's disorder, learning disabilities, and AD/HD. He was on high doses of the antiseizure drugs Dilantin and Tegretol. He didn't listen in class or complete his homework. As a child, he'd wandered the hills, climbed cliffs, barked like a dog in his sleep, kicked holes in doors, and beat up on other children without warning or explanation. He'd said he wanted to commit suicide, that he was "evil" and a "warlock," and would go to prison when he grew up.

He began neurofeedback training on Ayers's machinery in March 1985 and was taught to inhibit his overabundance of slow, theta brain waves. By May, he'd stopped beating up his younger brother and was finishing his homework for the first time in his life. In June, his family physician reduced his medications and said he appeared to be "outgrowing" his learning disabilities. He still had many problems and took Tegretol, but in the fall of 1986, he went off to college--something his parents had thought would never happen.
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