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Betsy DeVos’s Scary Link To Unproven Therapy Methods
Through a company called Neurocore, Betsy DeVos is making money off of families of children with special needs. Neurocore promotes bogus science as a near-cure for complex disorders like autism and ADHD. It touts itself as some sort of magical, drug-free “brain performance” center. Using a technique called biofeedback, the company’s website claims to have helped more than 10,000 kids. And the results displayed on its website are nothing short of miraculous. In fact, this company claims that more than 90 percent of kids with ADHD see clinically significant improvements…and 75% of them no longer meet the clinical criteria for an ADHD diagnosis after completing the treatment. It claims success with autism, and anxiety and sleep disorders, as well.
Of course, Neurocore is not peer reviewed. Nor is their work documented, regulated, or proven. But that hasn’t stopped Betsy DeVos from sitting on the board (although she has agreed to step down if she is confirmed as Secretary of Education). And it hasn’t stopped her from investing somewhere between $5 and $25 million in the Michigan-based company, either. She will not divest herself of the investment, if confirmed.
In other words, DeVos has a literal fortune wrapped up in a method that implies it’s a near-cure for complex, neurobiological disorders such as autism and ADHD…and she is currently tapped to run the public school system in the United States.
Neurocore And DeVos Capitalize On Hope
Neurocore utilizes a treatment called biofeedback. The technique is administered by untrained staff at its various clinics. Children with ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression and other diagnoses are placed before monitors, sensors attached to scalps and earlobes, and forced to watch movies and TV shows, ranging from Frozen to Mad Men.
The New York Times explains:
“Whenever they become distracted or anxious, the video automatically freezes. That feedback, known as conditioning, leads the vast majority of clients, company officers say, to experience improvements in their disorders after 30 45-minute sessions costing about $2,000.”
Think of it as a much more mild, “child-friendly” form of the torture done in A Clockwork Orange.
And the $2,000 charge? The technique is considered experimental, at best, so it isn’t covered by insurance. However, the company gladly offers financing options for parents who are willing to do anything for their children, as parents are apt to do. And parents are being taken in, eager to believe that their children will be helped.
But most doctors, however, don’t buy it. They don’t buy the technique, the method, or the results that DeVos’s pet company brag about. Dr. Matthew Siegel, a child psychiatrist and associate professor at Tufts School of Medicine, who co-wrote autism practice standards, not only dismissed the practice, but actively dissed it, as well.
“This causes real harm to children because it diverts attention, hope and resources. If there were something out there that was uniquely powerful and wonderful, we’d all be using it.”
But it’s exactly that hope which DeVos is capitalizing upon. Hope is, after all, the easiest thing to exploit in a parent…and it turns a nice profit, too.
DeVos’s Neurocore Connections Scarier Than Her Ignorance On IDEA
DeVos has already made it quite clear that she has no idea what the needs of any of our children are during her disastrous confirmation hearing. But for parents of children with special needs, her complete ignorance of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) struck an even deeper fear. After all, IDEA is what grants children – all children – the right to a free and appropriate education. For special education advocates, the moment was a disqualifying one. However, as uninformed as she may be, we can assume DeVos could at least learn about IDEA.
But her involvement with a company like Neurocore should cause a much deeper disturbance in the special needs community. It indicates more than a complete lack of understanding. This isn’t ignorance. This is choice. She has deviated from the treatment norms into uncharted – and dangerous – territories. DeVos is willing to play fast and loose with children’s minds and education. As Mitchell Robinson of Electablog writes:
“[…]Medicine and education are not professions that can afford to employ a ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ approach. Before physicians, or teachers, apply a technique or intervention with patients, or students, it is incumbent upon them to rigorously and strenuously test, examine, and analyze those strategies in experimental settings, and to vet these ideas widely and transparently in an effort to determine any potential problems or unintended consequences[…] Neurocore has just recently begun to gather and examine data on their biofeedback techniques, but is already advertising their services directly to parents at a cost of $2000 per session, is terrifying. And the fact that Betsy DeVos stands to benefit financially from this reckless activity is absolutely disqualifying with respect to her confirmation as Secretary of Education.”
What Could DeVos – And Neurocore – Do?
Studies on neurofeedback are unconvincing – and that’s being generous. Neurofeedback “isn’t shown to be better than placebo, and the effects are not long-lasting,” said Sandra K. Loo, director of pediatric neuropsychology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. But that hasn’t stopped Neurocore from expanding into seven locations in Michigan, with several more opening in Florida…and company plans to go nationwide.
It’s the idea that Neurocore plans on expanding nationally that have many concerned. After all, as it spreads, so does its influence – and DeVos’s profits.
Former White House ethics adviser for George W. Bush said DeVos should sell her interests in the company.
“This is not an appropriate investment for the secretary of education. How schools respond to attention issues is a vitally important policy question and ties right into achievement.”
Imagine an education system with Betsy DeVos at the helm. Resources for children with special needs already run thin, but at least the investments and time are spent on proven techniques. Applied behavioral analysis therapies, occupational therapy, speech therapy…These are specialized fields, and children are helped by individuals who have studied to do just that. But what if DeVos did away with that, and replaced those hardworking, specialized therapists with untrained workers who simply strap electrodes onto kids and stick them in front of TVs all day?
For DeVos, it’s a win-win. Less resources would go into funding public schools that are required to provide a free and appropriate education…while her own already considerable bank account grows.