By Erin Pesut
Debbie Hume’s story begins far away from Fayetteville. It begins while she was living in Thailand. (Hume and her family are missionaries and have lived overseas for a total of 10 years.) Hume was attending a continuing education conference in Bangkok, Thailand, focusing on “cutting-edge technologies in education” when a woman from Munich, Germany, presented about neurofeedback in education, and Hume’s ears perked up.
At that time, Hume’s son had been diagnosed with ADHD. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports neurofeedback as an effective modality for improving ADHD, and neurofeedback was recommended for her son, but Hume never believed she had the degree or knowledge to do it. As soon as the German presenter walked off the stage, Hume rushed over to share her son’s story wanting to learn more. The presenter told Hume, “If you come to Munich, I will give you my life blood.”
In Munich, Hume learned to operate the neurofeedback equipment and got the results from her son’s brain mapping. Upon returning to Thailand and working with her son, Hume realized the success of neurofeedback. “I saw tremendous progress, and as a result I said, ‘Wow, if this works for my son, it will work for so many others as well.’”
Neuropathways to Learning
Neuropathways to Learning is located in the Partnership for Children Building off Wagoner Drive. Hume says so herself. “I have a very unusual background.” She began a career in nursing, went on to graduate school to become an educational therapist specializing in learning disabilities and finally obtained a degree in BioFeedback from East Carolina University. She is professionally certified in Biofeedback, Neurofeedback and is a qEEG technologist. Her experience and education make her a triple threat of professions; she’s adept at looking and investigating from three perspectives: medical, psychological and educational.
At Neuropathways to Learning, Hume provides educational consultations, brain
mapping, biofeedback and neurofeedback. She also offers SEARCH & TEACH and Interactive Metronome. SEARCH & TEACH comes in two parts. SEARCH is the early intervention screening test (usually 30 to 40 minutes) for young learners (generally 5 to 7-year-olds) to catch learning deficits at the beginning of a child’s academic career to make sure they have the basic skills needed for reading. The TEACH element is the “tasks” to address the needs any child may have. Hume also uses Interactive Metronome, a computer-based training program that helps the brain and body work better together. Interactive Metronome reduces impulsivity, improves attention, concentration, motor planning and sequencing in both children and adults.
The basics of biofeedback
Bio means life. Think biology or bio-physics. Biofeedback is the feedback coming from your body. The thermometer you keep in your medicine cabinet at home is a biofeedback device. When you place it underneath your tongue when you feel ill, the thermometer tells you your internal temperature. It is giving you feedback from your body.
Hume uses the client’s heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, skin conductance (the electrical activity of the sweat glands), electrical muscle activity and brain wave states to bring the client to a state of awareness in regards to their physiology. There are no drugs involved.
“I don’t do anything to you other than apply the sensors to give you the feedback of what your body is already telling you,” Hume explains. “And when you become aware, you are capable of changing your physiology yourself.” Biofeedback benefits can counter stress, anxiety, anxiety in combination with depression, high blood pressure, headaches and post-traumatic stress disorders.
Did you know that through diaphragmatic breathing alone, you can raise the temperature in your fingers and toes by five degrees? By putting a temperature sensor on the end of your hand and diaphragmatically breathing and calming your autonomic nervous system, more blood will leave your core and go into your hands and feet, thereby warming you up. Interested in doing this yourself? Hume can teach you how.
A dedicated coach
Over and over again Hume refers to herself as a coach. “I’m a coach. I’m not a therapist. I’m giving you information and cheering you on to help you find the best strategy to be successful in training your own body on what you would prefer it to do. I don’t do anything to you other than apply the sensors that gives you feedback your body is already telling you.”
Neurofeedback & qEEG Brain Mapping
Neurofeedback falls under the umbrella of biofeedback. Neuro—meaning head—is the feedback of the brain waves. The sensor Hume places on your scalp measures 1/1,000,000 of a volt; it’s extremely sensitive. The sensors pick up the electroencephalography (EEG), or in other words, the electrical patterns of the brain activity beneath the scalp. In a qEEG, the “q” stands for quantitative, as it is the analysis of the digitized EEG readings, which is also known as “brain mapping.”
For a brain map, a client dons a white meshy flexi-fabric cap with 19 sensors. Hume has various options depending on the size of a client’s head. The surface sensors detect the electrical activity of the brain waves at various sites upon the head. A belt is also worn across your chest. These two connect to the “Tru Scan,” a small black box that serves as an encoder. This collects the data and sends it to Hume’s computer.
Hume is not a medical doctor, nor is she a neurologist, but she gathers information the same way a medical doctor or a neurologist might. “How we collect data is the same, but they look for pathology (sickness) and I compare the individual to a normal database and I see where there are any differences compared to a normal brain, as far as frequencies.” A full brain map is usually 100 pages. Hume carefully goes through every perspective to see what she finds.
“A person is very dynamic for who they are and what compromises their makeup between their central nervous system and their autonomic nervous system. A brain map is important to understand ‘what’s under the hood,’ so we put on the cap and record their EEG.”
The basics of brain waves
I’ll let Hume explain.
“We have slow brain waves and fast brain waves going on in different parts of our brain constantly. If we want to go to sleep, we don’t want fast brain waves.” We’ve all experienced the fast brain waves at the wrong time, like when we’re tucked into bed but we’re edgy and we’re ruminating and we’re worried about things. Yes, those are fast brain waves, and good brain waves to have, but at the right time. If we’re taking a timed math test, that’s when we want those fast brain waves. We want to process information quickly.
Hume continues, “At any given moment, our brain will change the speed of the brain waves depending on the task at hand. With Attention Deficit, there’s usually too much of the sleepy brainwaves that are in the prefrontal cortex. That’s the ‘executive center’ of the brain where decision making goes on. So what I’m helping to do is to turn down the volume of the sleepy brain waves and turn up the volume of the faster brain waves.”
How does Hume do this?
The client does.
Hume sets certain limits and restrictions—thresholds—through a game format. When the client stays within the thresholds (when a client can keep their “sleepy brain waves” below their set threshold, for example, and their “faster, focused brain waves” above another threshold) the game will go their way. The train will go. The plane will fly. The movie will continue to play.
“Neurofeedback is a process called operant conditioning. It’s a psychological term. Our brains are always driven to reward. We love the praise, the accolades, and since the brain is wired for reward, operant conditioning says if you give the brain enough reward, it will begin to go in that direction. It’s re-training. It’s building new neurological pathways.”
Clients who work with Hume for some time are successful at self-regulating. “I know they’re finished working with me when they can turn away from the screen and they can do it without looking.”
She recalls living in Thailand with her son, as her subject. “He became very skilled at that. I would look at the screen and I’d tell him, ‘Lower your theta and bring up your beta.’ And he could. He knew what it felt like.
Hume’s son may be her greatest success story. Her son had dreamed of becoming a helicopter pilot, but during the flight physical to obtain his pilot’s license, the doctor took one look at her son’s history of ADD and his use of ADD medication in high school and said it would be impossible for him to become a pilot. Hume recalls, “He said, ‘I’ve never seen anyone in the history of me doing this with your history and your diagnosis to ever get a pilot’s license.’ So, we went off the medications. My son had neurofeedback and he began taking specific supplements to help his body make some of the neurotransmitters he was lacking to help.”
Hume’s son graduated from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and is now an instructor in Fort Worth, Texas, working for a helicopter company. He’s one of their lead instructors.
“I’ve had many other students who have gained greatly from the nerofeedback, especially with attention issues. It takes a while to re-train your brain. It’s not like a pill where it’s an instant fix. It’s a learned experience, and I’m gently guiding you along.”
Hours of operation
At Neuropathways to Learning, Hume understands that fitting in a bio or neurofeedback session may not fit in a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. workday schedule. “I’m here whenever a client can come.” Nobody wants to miss school, so most of her clients will come after school or work, usually between the hours of 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Payment for services is private pay and can be made by cash, check or credit card.
The work Hume is involved in energizes her. Her passion for the field of bio and neurofeedback is obvious and her enthusiasm working with both children and adult clients is clear. She’s not the type of person who likes to sit still. “If I sit around, it’s not good for me. I have to be with people, engaging with them. That’s what gives me life and energy.” Her professionalism does not stop in the Partnership for Children building, either. Within the community she is also a mentor for professionals and PhD psychologists who want to include bio or neuro feedback into their practice, some in the Army and the Air Force at Fort Bragg.
She also volunteers her time as Director of Special Needs Ministry at Manna Church, visiting with new families to find out how the church can accommodate their special needs children and what kind of sensory products they may need to feel calm.
When asked if her clients have a good time while they are visiting her office, Hume laughs. “I hope so. I try to make it that way. There’s work involved, but I think it is fun for them.”
For more information, scheduling appointments and learning more about possible scholarship options, visit Neuropathways to Learning at www.neuropathwaystl.com or call Debbie Hume, RN, M.Ed., CET, BCB, BCN, QEEG-T at (910) 257-7800.