Exploring the Hemispheres

In Henderson, a fresh approach for special-needs kids

As a parent of a special-needs child, the best way to cross a raging river is to have a vision of your child’s future on the other side. To get there, sometimes it feels like you need to walk on water, but most parents take action by juggling their kid to myriad after-school therapies: speech, occupational, visual tracking, sensory-motor and more. Just getting from one place to the next can be exhausting and demoralizing. But the new Brain Balance Achievement Center in Henderson offers all those therapies in one place, in one program, drug-free.

Dr. Robert Melillo, the creator of the Brain Balance Program, is an acclaimed lecturer and best-selling author of Disconnected Kids (Perigree Trade 2009) and Reconnected Kids (Perigree Trade 2011). Melillo—himself the father of an ADHD child—has acted on decades of cutting-edge brain research. His vision is that children with autism, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia and other disorders have no physical damage in the brain; the two hemispheres of the brain are simply not communicating as they should across the “bridge”—the corpus callosum. Using specific cognitive, visual and sensory-motor therapies, his program promotes the development of new pathways, stronger connections and faster processing speeds until the communication between the two halves of the brain are restored.

The Brain Balance Program has 54 centers nationwide, and thousands of children have enrolled to improve their academic performance, become more focused and build better communication skills. In a study of 65 program graduates published in 2010 by the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 82 percent improved by two grade levels or more—some by as much as four grade levels.

The key to understanding autism, dyslexia and ADHD, Melillo says, is understanding the unique processes unfolding in the brain.

“When I lecture, the first thing I ask people is what they think is actually going on in the child’s brain?” Melillo says. “What I get back are open mouths and blank stares. The reason the problem is escalating is because most people out there working with these children don’t know what the actual problem is. How do you fix a problem if you don’t know what it is?”

The Brain Balance Program addresses “functional disconnection” between and within the hemispheres of the brain—a disconnect responsible for a host of behavioral, academic and social difficulties. In dyslexia, for instance, the left hemisphere (which is responsible for reading and writing) is typically weaker and the right hemisphere (which sees the big picture) is accelerated. In autism and ADHD, it’s just the opposite. Melillo says that by stimulating the weaker side of the brain, it’s possible to reduce or eliminate many of the learning and behavioral symptoms of these disorders.

Since opening in December, the Henderson center has enrolled nearly 30 clients, some of whom travel from as far away as Phoenix, center director Dr. Susan J. DeVito says. With autism spectrum diagnoses up 25 percent in the past decade, according to a March report from the Centers for Disease Control, and the overall population of the Las Vegas Valley increasing by 20 percent over the same period, the center is serving a growing need—and a growing market.

The center has a testing room for assessment of children’s weaker brain hemisphere, a remediation room with an array of motor, auditory, visual and sensory exercises, and a “cognitive classroom” with color-coded books—green strengthens the right hemisphere; orange, the left. The multifaceted whole-body approach also includes nutritional and lifestyle recommendations to achieve optimal body and brain function balance.

“Each child’s program is a hemispheric-specific program,” DeVito says. The initial two-day assessment is $295. If the child is accepted into the program, it’s a 12-week commitment—three days a week, one hour per day. Prices range from $5,000-$6,000.