Could just five sessions of NeurOptimal® neurofeedback training really help? When Nikki Sopchak of Serenity Neurofeedback chose to partner with the Dorna Centre Home for Autistic Children in Uganda, the plan was for all 31 children to receive at least 30 neurofeedback sessions over the course of the spring semester. Then COVID-19 sent the boarding and day students home after just two weeks—and only five sessions—for the children. What could be expected from so few trainings?
As one mom came to pick up her daughter from the Centre, the child began saying “bye-bye” to her teachers—without any prompting. The mom began to cry. Her daughter had never before spoken.
This was just one of many “firsts” for the children of Dorna Centre Home in those two weeks of NeurOptimal® neurofeedback training.
Five previously non-verbal children began to speak for the first time. Junior began saying single words, such as “yellow,” “apple,” and “go.” Katamba said, “give me” and “porridge.” Others began to repeat words spoken to them or imitate simple sounds. Catherine’s speech improved—and also her shyness. After just three NeurOptimal® sessions, the staff noticed how audible and clear she was while talking to her friends.
There was another first for Leon, a boy who had never before participated in group games or sport activities. For the first time, he joined in. The Dorna Centre staff also noticed several “first” signs of joy in children’s faces when one boy won a game or when another boy had accomplished an activity.
Parents of day students at the Centre reported that their children’s troubled sleep had improved. Dorothy Nambi, founder of the Dorna Centre Home, says that she used to hear some noises in the night at the boarding house, “but now it’s total silence.” Their report says that three of the children became “very calm.”
There are still other “firsts” for these young lives. For the first time, a student could sit by herself and eat all her food—with no “funny movements while eating—amazing.” Another student was willing for the first time to wash his utensils after a meal—“that has never happened before.”
The mission of the Dorna Centre Home is to help these children have independent lives and engage as members of society. Their motto is: “Out of the Hidden World: Awareness, Action, Acceptance, Inclusion, Appreciation.” Dorothy Nambi says, “What we do at Dorna Centre is train.” This includes class work and vocational training. With the addition of NeurOptimal® training, the teachers report that concentration has improved and aggressive behavior decreased.
One of the students, John, had this first in his life: He went from often being aggressive and “challenged by managing his behavior” to beginning to peer tutor his fellow students in some vocational activities. The staff report says of John that “after 5 [NeurOptimal®] sessions we have noticed a very different person.”
Theses “firsts” in the lives of these children were possible due to the sponsorship of Serenity Neurofeedback and because of the passion of the Dorna Centre staff for helping these children. It is possible thanks to 28 individuals who have already given just over $2,000 to sponsor children at the Centre.
Fighting the Odds
Even though the meals and special instruction require just $5 a day per child to cover costs at the Centre, this is beyond the means of many single mothers who must prioritize the basic needs of their family over more specialized education and care for their children with autism. Sadly, the majority of these single mothers were left by their husbands who believed the child’s disability was a bad omen or curse—representing some kind of sin or punishment for the mother. Because of the societal shame and stigma for parents, some even try to keep autistic children “behind the curtain,” preventing the children from getting the medical care they need.
Dorothy Nambi and her Dorna Centre Home for Autistic Children is fighting the odds to change this. On the Centre’s playground wall is painted the words: “Look at autism with our hearts.” As word began to get out about the NeurOptimal® neurofeedback training and results, more parents began coming to the Centre to ask for this training for their child. Dorothy writes, “I have to say ‘not now’ because it’s all I can do to give my children [already at Dorna Centre] sessions and must first give my children a chance.”
Even with the developments of the world pandemic, Dorothy and Nikki at Serenity Neurofeedback are committed to seeing this through. Nikki writes, “To learn about the reality for these children and their mothers in that country broke my heart, and to see the genuine passion and heroic efforts by the school’s director, Ms. Dorothy Nambi, on behalf of these children inspired me. I am totally invested in seeing these kids thrive—in helping them to be the best versions of themselves.” While much is uncertain in this extraordinary time, Nikki plans to extend the pro bono loan of the NeurOptimal® system to Dorna Centre Home so that each of the 31 children who have begun sessions can receive the benefit of at least 30 sessions. For this hope to be realized, Nikki and Dorothy will need to find sponsorships for more of the children in the months ahead.
Nikki writes, “I know how much NeurOptimal® helped my loved one on the autism spectrum with self-confidence, anxiety, sleep and so much more.” On a personal note, I write these articles pro bono because I know how much NeurOptimal® training has helped me in my life. I feel we owe it to children at least to know about this kind of dynamical neurofeedback, which works by giving real-time feedback “without judgment.” It’s my hope that we can make this kind of neurofeedback as accessible as possible to those in greatest need.
The “firsts” of these children—and what it means for their whole lives—keeps echoing in my mind, as does this comment from Dorothy: “They are really happy for what is going on with them. They wait anxiously for the next calling of their name,” for when it’s time for their next NeurOptimal® session. We hope that they can all return safely to Dorna Centre Home and find the financial aid they need for $5 a day, so that their names can be called again for another NeurOptimal® session—and the new “firsts” in their lives that might give them.
7 Children at the Dorna Centre Home for Autism in Kampala, Uganda (Daniel L., Leone M., Elijah M., Jacob M., Justice A., Elijah K., and Robert A.) are in need of sponsorships for the spring semester.
What if we lived in a culture where people called autistic children “mad”? In a recent feature on autism by BBC News | Africa, a parent explains, “There are all sorts of beliefs that somebody sinned, somebody was cursed or somebody was bewitched.”
Because of the societal shame for parents, many even keep their children from the medical care that they need. In 2018 the mayor of the Kampala region went on Urban TV Uganda with this message: “Should we catch you keeping a person with a disability behind the curtain, we are going to arrest you.”
This is what the Dorna Centre Home for Autism in Kampala, Uganda faces—and works to overcome. Their motto is “Out of the Hidden World: Awareness, Action, Acceptance, Inclusion, Appreciation.” Veronica Nyakato, a medical doctor, who is involved with the Centre says, “We have seen couples where, if the mother has a child with autism, the husband abandons—because they think it is due to witchcraft. They think it is a problem of the mother.”
In fact, the majority of parents who come to Dorna Centre are single mothers, left by husbands who believed the child’s disability was a bad omen representing some kind of punishment for the mother. At the Centre, which operates as a day and weekly boarding school, autistic children can find the special education they need to take care of themselves, get a job, and be a part of a community. Dorothy Nambi, the founder and director of Dorna Center says,
“At Dorna Centre we train them to survive on their own. We receive children who can’t help themselves, for example with bathing. You find a 16-year-old boy who doesn’t know how to bathe himself. But what we do at Dorna Centre is train. We say Dorna Centre is another life.”
A recent visitor to the Centre wrote,
“The children are loved and warmly cared for by Dorothy and her staff. She loves to help them and I loved visiting. They do wonderful work on a low budget.”
Another visitor to the Centre says, “You feel a sense of wellness being with them. May God bless many more people to reach out to the children and make them whole.”
The cost of therapy, daycare, and two meals at the Dorna Centre is $5 per day. Yet even at this highly discounted rate, Dorothy reports:
“Most children’s families cannot afford this and do not bring their children back to The Centre. This is one of the biggest problems facing Dorna Centre.”
Because of the poverty of the abandoned single mothers, they must prioritize basic needs for the entire family over specialized education and care for their autistic children.
No amount is too small – again just $5 will cover special instruction and two meals for a day for one child. $335 will cover full tuition and meals for one child for a semester. This semester, there are seven children who are in need of sponsorships in order to continue to be provided with the therapy, education, meals, and care they need. All donors will receive an update and pictures of the children that their donations have helped directly.
Each gift helps the two biggest problems that face autistic children in Uganda. These children won’t receive the care that they need because of poverty unless there is this financial help. Each gift also sends a vitally needed message. As Dorothy says, “the importance of caring and loving for every single child, autistic or not, will resound because of your heart in giving.”
I learned about this need from my friend Nikki Sopchak who is a NeurOptimal® dynamical neurofeedback trainer. Thanks to Nikki and Serenity Neurofeedback, the children at the Dorna Centre will each have 30 dynamical neurofeedback sessions with a pro bono NeurOptimal® neurofeedback system.
NeurOptimal® has been used worldwide for over 20 years and well over 4 million training hours. This kind of neurofeedback—that is, dynamical neurofeedback—helps each brain to improve its own functioning by simply providing real time feedback about its behavior. Much like a mirror, NeurOptimal® does not cause changes to happen; it merely reflects what is happening, thus allowing the brain and central nervous system to improve in a way that is best for each individual. NeurOptimal® training is enjoyable, effortless, relaxing, non-invasive and carries no risk.
NeurOptimal® is used for stress management and holistic brain fitness purposes and is not a targeted treatment. Below are some testimonials of just how much this training can help children with behavioral issues:
“At my son’s ARD meeting a couple of weeks ago his teachers were amazed at the extent of maturing since last spring. At school he has much better self-control. His behavior was really getting in the way of his learning last year, they thought they would need a BIP (behavioral intervention plan) but they hadn’t even noted behavior problems this year. The only thing that has changed since spring is that we trained with the rental unit over the summer” – Mother of 13 year old son diagnosed with HF Autism
“This seems to be having an effect on me, last night I did something I never would have done before I went out to a haunted house with friends… And I enjoyed it!” 19 year old dxd with ASD – Mom had said she was worried about him because he had no friends and was too fearful to go out, she was blown away by this transformation in 4 sessions
“Neurofeedback has been a gift. My client for years had issues with outbursts, tantrums and self-harming behaviors. These behaviors have completely subsided. I now see a young man who is more redirect able, and he is learning more quickly. Overall, B. is more confident and happy today and the neurofeedback has been a huge contributing factor to this change.”
“He (my son) has a better flow of conversation and seems more “connected”…he is better able to “push” through exercises when before he would just quit.” 13 year old with Autism
“A non-verbal three-year-old boy started talking after approximately seventeen sessions. As is often typical with kids on the autistic spectrum he was also very much in his own world and didn’t show much interest in others. During his time using NeurOptimal, he started coming out of his shell and began noticing and interacting with others around him.” —NeurOptimal® Trainer Survey 2014
“I have a 6-year-old boy with autism, that didn’t speak. After the first 10 min (the first session) he started to speak more and more efficiently. After 17 sessions he focused his eyes, and his doctor was very impressed.” —NeurOptimal® Trainer Survey 2014
Because the children at the Dorna Centre are receiving free neurofeedback sessions this semester, it is an even greater loss if they cannot find the sponsorships they need to get through the spring. I know how I have personally benefited greatly from NeurOptimal training. This is yet another reason why I wanted to take action and reach out to as many as I could about this opportunity to truly make a lasting difference in the lives of these seven children.
I felt called to share this cause because I believe we also receive so much even as we give to the autistic children of Kampala.
Mackenzie Hawkins, Guest Blogger
P.S. – Please share with others who may be touched by this article — and how it gives a perspective that we can lose sight of. We have come so far in terms of our societal prejudices about disabilities in the U.S. and we have so far to go. But by lending this helping hand to others in Africa, maybe we can further see how much we can appreciate each differently-abled child without the prejudices of shame, blame, and fear.