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Raleigh, NC 27612
Telephone: (919) 782-4597

Attention! A Struggle for Many Youngsters

“It does take a village to raise a child and I’m one of those villagers, privileged to work with children—from as young as four up into their teens—who are primarily having academic issues with attention and focus, so-called ADD or ADHD,” explains Dr. Dan Chartier, PhD. He is a psychophysiologic psychotherapist and co-founder, in partnership with his wife, Dr. Lucy Chartier, of Life Quality Resources in Raleigh.

Dr. Chartier engages with a young client seeking to modify the impact of ADD during a biofeedback session.

“There are many subtexts as to why people don’t pay attention,” he notes. “Primarily what we do is help these clients develop attention skills. We can isolate relative, causative factors from a neurological level—discernable activity in the brain. We help kids become confident so that they can listen to a teacher or solve a problem, rather than bouncing around, which is one of the characteristics of an attention-disordered brain.”

Relaxed or Anxious?

Explains Dr. Chartier, “The frequen-cies of brain activity determine whether the brain is in relaxed or anxious state of attention. The mid-range frequencies are the places where we know the brain is appropriately engaging. If there’s an over-abundance of slower frequencies—in the Theta 8-12 frequency range—that’s associated with classic attention deficit. Theta is a transitional state from conscious to unconscious, and then back again, where our brain is overly relaxed, open, and free floating. It can be a very creative state, though not very focused.

“Another way we can get distracted internally,” he explains, “is if we’re in the upper frequency ranges. That’s where the brain goes if you’re overly anxious or excited, on the alert, like when you hear something in the woods and think it’s a bear. That’s attentiveness, but it’s born of anxiety and fear.”

Learning to Focus Attention

Dr. Chartier notes that Life Quality Resources was one of the first practices nationally to have technology to help train and focus attention, using software that makes a game of the process, much like a video game.

“To be successful at the game, the brain has to be emanating the appropriate balance between faster and slower frequencies, which is the hallmark of appropriate attention. Tufts University researched this particular technology and found it to be quite effective at improving attention and thus academic outcomes.


“My work with children focuses primarily on helping them develop the self-regulatory skills they need to thrive in this digital, fast-paced world. In my work with adults, I’m often helping them to deal with problems caused by trauma they experienced as children.

“Research on what are known as ACEs—Adverse Childhood Experiences—reveals strong ties between ACEs and common adult health conditions, ranging from headaches to depression to heart disease,” he explains. “These childhood traumas include pro-longed illness, exposure to alcohol or drug abuse, sexual or physical abuse, depression, anxiety, PTSD, violence, neglect, and abandon-ment. Researchers have found that the higher a person’s ‘ACE score’— which relates to the number of childhood traumas experienced— the greater their risk for chronic disease and social and emotional problems later in life.  

“In my practice,” notes Dr. Chartier, “I find that adults who’ve had significant ACEs in their child-hood history are still living with that child within who was trau-matized. That person needs help coming to grips with how to inter-pret their experience in a way that ultimately honors the growth and strength that they’ve developed, rather than the guilt and shame that they’ve often been carrying.”

“My ‘village’ offerings include behavioral intervention games to help improve attention, focus, and thus academic outcomes. In one neurofeedback game, for example, the child is a diver (or orca or dolphin) and uses their attention to dive for treasure. As their attention and focus improve, they are able to dive to the ocean floor where the treasure chest is and, if they pass close enough because they’re focused, it opens up and they collect a coin. To play it successfully, you have to be in relaxed focused attention.”

Attention Issues

Over the years, Dr. Chartier has seen an increase in attention issues, as well as more awareness among teachers. “I see what happens to the brain of a child engaged or just watching a typical video game—increased Theta activity. It invites them into a realm of day-dreaminess or an unfocused, but engaged stimulation state, carrying that into everything that they do.

“Given the amount of time children spend with video games and other such activities, it’s not surprising that it’s having a major impact. What chance does a teacher have at engaging a child who’s already half asleep, with their brain generating slow-frequency output? These children try to find ways to get stimulated, such as nudging the child next to them or acting out; and then, too often, they get labeled and maybe medicated. We’re seeing much more of that now.”

Stimulants are the primary medication used for attention and focus problems, notes Dr. Chartier. “They’re effective—in that they speed up the brain’s activity, moving it out of that slower, daydream frequency. But there have been serious consequences: these medications often lead to poor appetite and weight loss; and when a dosage of stimulant medication wears off, there’s often a very negative rebound that occurs.

“There are now a number of different meds being used, some in combination with anti-depressants, that are helpful. But I always wonder what the long-term costs are to the child who, at seven or eight, is put on a stimulant medication and kept on it for their entire school career. Some indications are that they’re more susceptible to drug abuse and other negative behaviors.”

Diet, Screen Time: Sources of Inattention

There are numerous issues that can affect a person’s attention and focus. Diet definitely plays a factor, observes Dr. Chartier. “I see children coming in for their appointments to treat attention deficit issues, and they’re eating happy meals—processed food, high in sugar content. We can see what happens to their brains after they’ve ingested these foods, and it’s not pretty. It’s not supportive of getting their attention and focus in a relaxed way that we’re trying to help them develop.”

Screen time is another influencing factor, notes the doctor. “In addition to gaming time and cell phones, schools are using more digital screen time as a part of the regular curriculum—some issuing every child their own computer at the beginning of their first year. The increased screen time— especially when it’s a substitute for direct personal communication—not only affects brainwave activity, but there’s evidence that it contributes to social isolation and disconnection,” he says. “This increasingly ‘on-line’ community children live in inhibits their ability to develop social and communication skills—creating additional problems down the road.”