No data or research results are presented as evidence to back up the family’s story of help for their daughter. This story mistakenly substitutes an anecdote for scientific proof and appears almost to promote the nationally franchised Brain Balance centers. Most news organizations would include more than one source for such a story, and some balancing arguments about other alternative treatments.
Problems in behavior for children growing up are frequently complicated and not easy to diagnose or treat. It is estimated that about 9 million visits per year in the United States to a clinic or doctor are associated with ADHD. The numbers of children diagnosed with ADHD and other psychiatric disorders has increased substantially over the past two decades or so, as have the numbers of children treated with stimulant and other medications. See what Dr. Allen Frances, former psychiatry chair at Duke and head of the DSM IV Task Force, wrote.
This story suggests that easing the problem for a young woman with ADHD, as well as other disorders, was as simple as visiting a center in New Jersey. (The Science-Based Medicine website has questioned the evidence behind these centers.) A better story could have honestly outlined the experience of this family, while not pretending that a single case proves the unstudied treatment is therefore proven to work for most patients.
While medication helps some of these kids, others are overtreated and non-medication interventions are given short shrift, and, as opposed to what this article implies, the standard of care is to always try behavioral help with organizational skills and making sure the child is getting enough exercise to burn off energy first.
The story does not include any mention of costs. Typically taking a child out of the home to attend any kind of face-to-face training for learning differences can be expensive. The story does not give us any idea what visits to Brain Balance Achievement Centers cost, or how many visits a typical family would make. According to a news story written about the franchised national chain, a typical course of therapy cost about $6,000 in 2010.
An anecdote about one person’s experience does not amount to quantifying potential benefits for readers. The story provides no studies/evidence to quantify benefits of the approach described.
The story does not discuss any potential harms.
There may be families whose children are helped by the Brain centers, but there is no evidence offered in this story, except for the lone anecdote. The story refers to “bionutritional” advice, but doesn’t explain what that undefined term involves. This is not sound health care journalism. No data. No evidence. No independent perspective.
There is no disease mongering.
The story does not quote any sources independent of the franchise that sells the “training” to families. The fact that the story ends with a link to the commercial Brain Balance Centers website reinforces the notion that this is more promotion than journalism.
The story mentions drugs that are often prescribed for children with behavioral disorders. But it does not offer any evidence-based comparison of approaches. While offering the Brain Balance system as a superior treatment, the story does not provide the context that some of the elements of the Brain center’s treatment are also offered in traditional therapeutic centers.
This line in the story – “with doctors prescribing everything from stimulants to antipsychotics and even antidepressants to help control the symptoms” – also demands some further explanation. This statement makes the use of antipsychotics and antidepressants sound commonplace. It would be the rare and controversial practice to use these.
There are dozens of Brain Balance centers in the United States. The story does not directly address availability and could lead readers to think the New Jersey facility was one of a kind. But maybe the news organization felt it covered the issue when it generously offered a free link to the centers at the end of the piece.
According to the story, the Brain Balance “program uses a combination of sensory motor (physical) exercises and academic learning” – approaches that are widely available from physical and occupational therapists. The story implies that these are novel approaches to the brand name centers.
When a story reports on just one person’s experience from just one commercial treatment center and ends by including a link to the commercial operation’s website, it sure smacks of a PR news release at play. But we don’t have any direct evidence of that, so all we can give this story is a Not Applicable score on this criterion because of our uncertainty.