I’ve written before about Brain Balance Centers; an ever-expanding network of franchise operations in the USA that offer treatment programs for a variety of developmental disorders based on an utterly made-up theory of brain function, and founded by a chiropractor with dodgy credentials. My opinion about Brain Balance has always been that it’s pretty much an outright scam, but I’ve never been able to dig up any real details about their treatment program; the information on the website is very vague.
However, that’s recently changed. A reader of this site who briefly worked for Brain Balance got in touch with me, and kindly gave me some detailed impressions of the practices, staff, and treatment sessions at one of their franchise locations.
So, parents reportedly pay around $6000 for 36 sessions; that’s around $167 per session. The first session lasts for 2-4 hours and the kid is assessed to see which side of their brain is ‘weaker’. Although they advertise a customised service, apparently the treatment programs are fairly standard and originate with the central Brain Balance organisation (the BB Centers are franchise operations). At the beginning of each appointment, shoes and one sock is removed, in order to ‘stimulate one side of the brain’, and a session in the ‘sensorimotor room’ follows. This might be some simple motor (walking on a balance beam, jumping on a trampoline) or cognitive (clapping to a regular beat, doing simple games on a computer) exercises. Sometimes these are done with an eye-patch over one eye, again to ‘stimulate one half of the brain’. The second half of each session is in the ‘cognitive room’ where remedial maths or English work is done; spelling, grammar, arithmetic; whatever the particular child is weakest on.
None of this was very surprising; I always strongly doubted that Brain Balance had found some revolutionary instructional method, and this all sounds very, very standard and boring. What did surprise me was what this reader said about the staff. Apparently, most are very young (21/22 on average), with no real relevant qualifications, and there’s a high turnover; most don’t stay longer than a few months. That could be partly because of the awful wages; $10 an hour. That’s particularly ridiculous when you consider that a typical session includes one coach and two kids. Brain Balance rakes in over $300 per session, but only pays their coaches $10. This reader also mentioned that parents frequently complained about the lack of any nutritional guidance as part of the program; Brain Balance make a big deal out of this in their promotional information, but apparently it never materialised.
They did mention one positive aspect; that there are so few specialist programs for kids with special needs in their local area that parents need something that will at least give them some hope. This jibes with my opinion of these things – individualised attention for an hour a week is probably a good thing for a lot of kids, and may well have some positive effects for many of them. My problem with it is the bullshit pseudo-science and outrageous claims for effectiveness in their marketing.
Now, clearly this is the experience of just one coach, at one particular Brain Balance location, so I have no idea how much it generalises to any of the others. The reader mentioned that some high pressure sales-techniques were often used to get parents to sign on the dotted line, but that might be peculiar to this particular BB Center. Overall, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture though; unqualified, poorly-trained staff on minimum-wage, leading kids through pointless exercises and standard spelling tests. A far cry indeed from the hysterically positive promotional material that promises cures for ADHD, Asperger’s, and other serious developmental disorders. The reader’s general verdict? The Brain Balance program is “fraud”.