BrainBalance Music

In yesterday’s post, I asked what folks thought about a therapy that was described using terms such as “brain,” “balance,” “comprehensive,” “individualized,” “neurobehavioral,” and etc. I promised to explain more about this therapy. Here’s what I know:

What is it?

The descriptors are associated with BrainBalance Music, a product of Dr. Robert Melillo and Lisa Erhard. The main Web site for the product is called “i-waveonline.com,” but there are others.[1] Sometimes the name of the program is written without a space (BrainBalance) and sometimes it has a space (Brain Balance). I’m not sure which way to present it.

The therapy apparently requires that one listen to various audio recordings, sometimes with one earpiece removed and sometimes with the other earpiece removed. The recordings are entitled “Woman Breathing”; “Peaceful”; “The Gargle Guy”; and “Wolves & Whales.” The Web site has samples.

BrainBalance Music is designed and customized to Dr. Robert J. Melillo’s specifications, based on extensive research and knowledge that certain types and frequencies of sound are specifically processed by the two hemispheres of the brain differently. By using specific music and sounds BrainBalance Music may help to stimulate one hemisphere more than the other and possibly create more balance in the brain.

How many weasel words do you count in that quote? In combination with the breadth and boldness of the claims, the quality of this statement made my antennae vibrate!

Who is Dr. Melillo?

There is a Robert J. Melillo of Ronconkama (NY, US) who has been licensed (#004289) to practice chiropracty in New York since 20 May 1985. Dr. Melillo has published books including, Neurobehavioral Disorders of Childhood: An Evolutionary Perspective and Disconnected Kids: The Groundbreaking Brain Balance Program for Children with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Neurological Disorders.[2] He spoke about the latter book 16 May 2009 on Autism Podcast.[3]

Dr. Melillo apparently maintains physical offices in Ronkonkoma and Rockville Center (NY, US). However, the Brain Balance centers are spread around the US. He also teaches for the Carrick Institute for Graduate Studies, a specialty program in chiropractic neurology where people study with doctors who have restored people’s hearing or eyesight or who have brought patients out of comas.

The domain name “i-waveonline.com” was initially registered with Internic on 14 August 2002 using the GODADDY services. The Web site lists a mailing address of i-Wave, Inc., P.O. Box 10080, Westbury, NY 11590-6106. That’s consistent with the owner of the brand “Brain Based Music,” I Wave, which is located on Bowling Green Drive Westbury.

There is no intimation that Dr. Melillo is dishonest. He may well believe that the methods he’s promolgating are beneficial. We’ve certainly seen teachers adopt and advocate bogus methods, even while their hearts are in the right places. Certainly, a chiropractor could do so, too.

Meanwhile, I have to admit that I would pay real money to see someone restore people’s sight or hearing, provided that the restoration occurred under prescribed conditions. (Possible conditions: I bring a group of blind people with me and select patients at random from that group; the chiropractor performs all examinations and therapies in public; and the verification of restored sight is made by independent parties who have no connections to me or the chiropractors and who employ assessments sanctioned by, say, the American Foundation for the Blind. If the therapist says that the restorative therapies only work with some patients, she or he will need to provide an objective means by which I can, a priori bring only blind people who meet those standards.)

Who’s it for?

I wrote that the therapy is supposed to benefit those with ADHD, dyslexia, Autism, Aspergers, Tourette, Learning Disability, processsing disorders. Actually, that’s an understatement; according to I-Wave, “The majority of symptoms in children and adults including attention deficits, learning disabilities, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and many more are all directly a result of an imbalance of electrical activity in the brain.”[1]

The list is pretty long! Something that benefits so many folks really ought to be in general use. Given credible independent research that documented the benefits of the therapy for people who experience so many different problems, I suspect that an advertising agency could create quite a buzz around the therapy. Lots of individuals and organizations would queue to purchase it.

What’s the evidence for it?

There is, though, that pesky matter of “credible independent research.”

Dani Schweigert reported about the method in “Brain Balance helps children with learning disabilities” that appeared in the Vernon Hills (CA, US) Review, describing the program as “based on studies that show children with learning disabilities often have a functional imbalance and disconnection between the two halves of their brains, and Brain Balance works to improve that communication.”

The BrainBalance site points to a case study by Dr. David Clark, a Chiropractic Neurologist of Dallas (TX, US). Dr. Clark reported about seeing a 19-month-old boy who “had never slept through the night since he was born.” The very night (the 578th or 579th of the child’s life) after the first day of a therapy that included “Wolves and Whales” for 10 minutes twice per day (did he get two doses that first day?), the boy “slept for 4 hours straight. That night, he slept from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am. The next night he slept from 11:00 pm to 8:00 am awaking twice for approximately 10 seconds each time.” [1]

On BBCenters.org, another site advancing the Brain Balance Program, there is a page presenting “objective results.” There are descriptions of two childen, Tara and Victoria, who reportedly overcame some of their difficulties.[5]

Essentially, this amounts to no evidence. These are testimonials. This is just what people say. There are no express comparisons of the Brain Balance program to any other program, let alone randomly constituted control groups. There are no independently administered assessments of the individuals’ performance using objective and psychometrically sound instruments. There are no replications, either direct or systematic. There is no evidence beyond assertion.

Unlimited Potential

The BrainBalance program was once known as the “Unlimited Potential Program.” The phrase is used on one of the affiliated Web sites, i-waveonline.com, where one can hear sample MP3s (approximate lyric for one of them: “I can see clearly in the night. I know I’ll have faith now. I know I can believe.”)

Jeremy Frtiz, one of the practitioners of BrainBalance, told Ms. Schweigert, “I love working with kids, and to see them change from day one to the end of the process is amazing. They come in with limited potential and leave with unlimited potential.”

What’s it all mean?

There’s not much to say here. Somebody’s selling a therapy. It’s sounds bogus to me. Would it have helped if the therapy had been described as “revolutionary,” “widely adopted,” or “fast-acting?” What sort of language gets folks to accept what amounts to un-validated therapies?

There’s no scientific basis for this. I’d sure save my $$.

Sources

11 Responses to “BrainBalance Music”


  • Have you read the research in his book “Neurobehavioral Disorders of Childhood: An Evolutionary Perspective and Disconnected Kids”? I bet not!

  • Thank you for stopping to read this post at LD Blog and for taking the time to leave a comment. I’m glad that you raised the question about reading research. In general and in specific, it’s a critically important question.

    Indeed, because your specific query is pertinant, let me respond to it directly. I have read neither book cover to cover. When originally preparing this note, I did what most academics (I hope) would do: I searched data bases for research by Dr. Melillo in the following databases (I underlined a few to emphasize them and added notes about the coverage of some, too): ERIC (1.2 million records), Teacher Reference Center, Women’s Studies International, Education Research Complete, SPORTDiscus, Alt HealthWatch (183 journals), CINAHL, MedicLatina, Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition, MEDLINE (11 million records), Consumer Health Complete, PsycINFO (2437 journals), Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, Fuente AcadĂ©mica, American Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies, Mental Measurements Yearbook, Academic Search Complete (5100 peer-reviewed journals), PsycCRITIQUES. A perusal of university libraries will reveal that these are especially well-regarded sources for learning about research; as the list shows, I cast a wide net, increasing the chances of finding anything available.
    My searches yielded two citations. So that others may save the effort of finding them, I list the references (with abstracts) here.

    Leisman, G., & Melillo, R. (2007). A call to arms: Somatosensory perception and action. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 30(2), 214-215.
    Abstract: Comments on an article by Dijkerman and de Haan (see record 2007-13802-022). Somatosensory processing for action guidance can be dissociated from perception and memory processing. The dorsal system has a global bias and the ventral system has a local processing bias. Autistics illustrate the point, showing a bias for part over wholes. Lateralized differences have also been noted in these modalities. The multi-modal dysfunction observed may suggest more an issue of interhemispheric communication.

    Leisman, G., & Melillo, R. (2006). Cortical asymmetry and learning efficiency: A direction for the rehabilitation process. In S. V. Randall (Ed.), Learning disabilities: New Research (pp. 1-27). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.
    Abstract (from the chapter): In numerous reviews that have appeared in the literature of learning disabilities over the past 100 years, Hynd & Willis (1988) concluded that by 1905 the number of observations that had emerged from the evolving literature was such that a number of tentative conclusions could be offered. Overall, the literature by 1905 supported the following: (1) reading disability (congenital word blindness) could manifest in children with normal ability, (2) males seemed to be more often affected than females, (3) children presented with varied symptoms, but all suffered a core deficit in reading acquisition, (4) normal or even extended classroom instruction did not significantly improve reading ability, (5) some reading problems seemed to be transmitted genetically, and (6) the core symptoms seemed similar to those seen in adults with left temporo-parietal lesions.

    I read the first of these. It presented no original data. It is a commentary on a theoretical paper by other authors who contend that neurological processes used in perception and memory differ from those used in behavior. Lesiman and Melillo contend that individuals with autism display behaviors they interpret as indicating the dysfunction of hemispheric communication and, therefore, that the theory advanced by the original authors should take this dysfunction into account.
    The second comes from a book that is not available in libraries to which I currently have access. When I obtain a copy, I shall examine the chapter. I know the paper by Hynd and Willis and look forward to comparing these authors’ reading of it to my own.

    As I noted, I have read neither book. When I perused the images available from Disconnected Kids: Groundbreaking Neurological Disorders, however, I found no list of references or a bibliography. So, I can’t say I read the research posed there. Perhaps there are reports of results embedded in some pages in the book. If there are, please send me the references for the papers to which he refers.

    I would like to see research supporting some of the assertions made in what I was able to read. Here are two paragraphs from Disconnected Kids… that illustrate the point.

    In order for the brain to function normally, the activites in the right and the left hemispheres must work in harmony, much like a concert orchestra. When a certain function can’t stay in rhythm, it can throw the entire hemisphere off-key, so the other side tries to tune it out. This can cause disharmony to such a degree that the two sides can no longer effectively share and integrate information. The brain becomes functionally disconnected.

    A child with a slow-developing left brain, for example, will have different academic problems and display different behaviors than a child with a slow-developing right brain. He may not be able to read words or be able to stay focused on reading. A child with a right brain dysunction may not look at you when speaking because the brain’s ability to read body language is out of balanace. The symptoms are different but the problem is the same— Functional Disconnection Syndrome. There are dozens of other examples, but in its most simplistic explanation, this is why your child does not appear “normal.” In fact, when parents first bring this problem to the attention of a doctor or other professional, they often say that their child “seems disconnected.” And they are exactly on the mark.

    Here’s an idea-by-idea response to those two paragraphs:

    • Quote: “In order for the brain to function normally, the activites in the right and the left hemispheres must work in harmony, much like a concert orchestra.”
      Comment: This is certainly a sensible statement. It probably requires little evidentiary support.
    • Quote: When a certain function can’t stay in rhythm, it can throw the entire hemisphere off-key, so the other side tries to tune it out. This can cause disharmony to such a degree that the two sides can no longer effectively share and integrate information. The brain becomes functionally disconnected.
      Comment: This assertion takes the form of a (semi-mixed) metaphor, and it would be enhanced if it included more than just the metaphor. What neuropsychological functions are “in rhythm?” How do we know (in the scientific sense) this? How do we know when they are out of rhythm.
    • Quote: A child with a slow-developing left brain, for example, will have different academic problems and display different behaviors than a child with a slow-developing right brain.
      Comment: What’s the scientific evidence that the hemispheres of children’s brains develop at different rates? A citation would help, even if just in a footnote.
    • Quote: [A child with a slow-developing left brain] may not be able to read words or be able to stay focused on reading. A child with a right brain dysunction may not look at you when speaking because the brain’s ability to read body language is out of balanace.
      Comment: Presuming that it’s asymmetrical maturation is true, what’s the scientific evidence that the characteristics attributed to the differences actually obtain? This left-brain-vs.-right-brain idea hasn’t panned out particularly well, as Dan Willingham has shown (here, for example)
    • Quote: Functional Disconnection Syndrome
      Comment: If this syndrome is advanced as neurological entity, then it would be important to establish its validity. Where is the strong neurological evidence of it? For example, what brain parts (e.g.,the corpus callosum) are affected? If Dr. Melillo identifies a group of a few dozen individuals who have the syndrome and others who do not, do scans show differences in those brain parts that his hypothesis identifies? What are the relationships between this syndrome and others? Is Functional Disconnection Syndrome behaviorally equivalent to, say, “NSE” (needs special education)?

    Of course, the most critical criterion for anyone championing a therapy is whether that therapy does the recipients any good. One can’t determine this by case studies. To assert benefits scientifically, one needs more than personal opinion and customer satisfaction as outcomes.

    Suppose that a large number of children identified by Dr. Melillo as having Functional Disconnection Syndrome were divided into two groups. One group would be given 100% pure, unadulterated Brain Balance therapy for a period of time and a frequency of sessions specified by Dr. Melillo as being sufficient for the therapy to have beneficial effects. The other group received a different therapy of equal intensty and duration. After the specified period of time, the children would be evaluated by independent testers using a battery of measures that included some recommended by Dr. Melillo and others recommended by, say, me. The measures would include measures that were objective (i.e., reading performance, eye-gaze, etc.) and others that were ratings (some done by people who knew which therapy each child received and some by people who were naive about the therapy assignments). How effective would the Brain Balance program be?

    Absent this sort of evidence, it’s hard to assert that it’s difficult to assert that Brain Based Music is an evidence-based method.
    If you would provide me with references to the research in Neurobehavioral Disorders…, I’d be interested in reviewing the studies. Thanks!

  • Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the depth to which you have investigated this. I have been considering taking my ADHD and Asperger’s kids to a Brain Balance Center, but have been unsettled by the lack of specific references to research studies backing up the work. Now I know why. With a masters in psych myself, I know that any valid work references double-blind, randomized clinical trials.

  • Thanks, Merriam. I appreciate you taking the time to underscore the point.

    For those who are interested in effective treatments, there are some posts at Teach Effectively! that describe methods with solid empirical support. In addition, I recently posted a note on EBD Blog that refers to the National Standards Project, a resource for good information about treatments of autism.

  • For the record, you are right to some degree about unpublished studies. There is much anecdotal evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of the Brain Balance Program (not just the music, which is a very small part of the overall program). Dr. Melillo has, and is the process of, writing and delivering papers on Functional Disconnection Syndrome. BTW, that term has been used for over 70 years and, if Googled, will produce more articles than those produced by Dr. Melillo.
    But, just in case you’ve missed it, here’s a recent paper he wrote and delivered: http://files.meetup.com/1436730/Autistic%20Spectrum%20Disorders%20as%20Functional%20Disconnection%20Syndrome.pdf
    As you are probably aware, doing research is both costly and time consuming. Dr. Melillo will be developing original research on this subject in the near future in a university-based research center. So, if you’re waiting for this, hold on. It will be forthcoming.

  • Dear Ld,

    Stumbled upon your blog site accidently. Appears as though your more concerned with your methods of obtaining your science than what may get results. I believe Dr Melilo’s intentions are more based on results and not science based labeling. Science is dynamic and I find it to be ever changing especially in the world of westernized scienctific studies that increasingly seem to carry the label of bad science. Science is man’s attempt to describe nature and is based on natural law. It appears that some how you may have gotten your scienctific methods and natural law ass backwards. What actually is your intent with this blog? Your efforts appear to be more based on your opinions then actually helping people. I call that a case of stinking thinking. My only suggestion to you would be to allow yourself to, “free your mind and your ass may follow”.

    D Smith

  • A lot of people are resorting to various sorts of this, as conventional methods are getting harder and displaying more negative effects. your post explores some of these alternative types of methods and ways in which the benefit us, thanks!

  • Two things, John:

    1. Emily Willingham’s take on Brain Balance Centers:

    http://ldblog.com/2009/06/02/brainbalance-music/

    2. A press release from Melillo et al. touting a study published in “International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health”. This journal IS indexed in PubMed but the most recent issue indexed is January. I don’t currently have research library access so can’t really chase it down.

    Here’s the press release:

    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/198665.php
    A new ADD/ADHD study found that a multi-modal hemispheric based program significantly improved the participant’s educational outcomes. The study, “The Effect of Hemispheric Specific Remediation Strategies on the Academic Performance Outcome of Children With ADD/ADHD,” was conducted by a research team including, Gerry Leisman, Robert Melillo, Sharon Thum, Mark Ransom, Michael Orlando, Christopher Tice, and Frederick Carrick. The study appears in the current issue of the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health.

    The new study included 122 children ages six to twelve years in Nassau and Suffolk Counties New York. All were diagnosed with ADD or ADHD; 94 were male and 28 were female; and all were of average intelligence. Before starting the study, each participant completed Wechsler Individual Achievement Tests (WIAT) including subtests for Word Reading, Reading Comprehension, Mathematical Reasoning, Spelling, Written Expression, Listening Comprehension and Oral Expression. The intervention consisted of a 12-week multi-modal program delivered through 60-minute sessions, three times per week. The sessions included sensory stimulation, motor training, aerobic strength and conditioning, and academic training. A key activity included auditory feedback through synchronized metronome training to improve the participants’ ability to match physical motion to the beat. Remediation techniques also included primitive reflex inhibition exercises and academic home training.

    Results were evaluated by comparing pre-and post-intervention standardized academic achievement and motor coordination and function scores, as well as reassessment on the Brown Scale for ADD/ADHD.

    Of the Children examined with the Brown Scale, 81% of their parents said the children no longer demonstrated ADD/ADHD behaviors. The achievement subtests revealed improvements, sometimes as much as two to four grade levels in reading, comprehension, written and oral expression, and mathematic reasoning.

    In Word Reading an improvement of 84% was noted. In Mathematical Reasoning an improvement of 81% was evidenced.

    In Spelling an improvement of 57% was noted, whereas in Written Expression 76% improved between pre- and post-testing.

    Listening Comprehension evidenced an 82% improvement, and in Oral Expression 71% improved.

    The new multi-modal hemispheric based program is a non-medical after-school supplemental learning program for children ages four through seventeen who exhibit symptoms of neurobehavioral disorders such as autism, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia.

    The 12-week multi-modal hemispheric based educational program, developed by Dr. Robert Melillo, author of Disconnected Kids, integrates physical and cognitive activities with dietary change to improve children’s functioning and to reduce or eliminate negative behaviors by correcting underlying imbalances in the connections within the brain hemispheres.

    Source: FR Carrick Research Institute

  • Liz directed me to this post. Nice breakdown of the various claims with your comments. The correct link to my post on Brain Balance Centers is here:

    http://daisymayfattypants.blogspot.com/2010/08/brain-balance-centers-critique.html

  • LD,
    Stumbled on your site while doing some personal research. You seem very staunch that things always need evidence to work. Ritalin was first introduced in 1961, and the founder was actually jailed for corrupting the research in favour of ritalin, however it still went on to become what it is today. They still don’t know how or why it works, although they have hypotheses and theories. Does this mean GP’s and specialists are wrong to prescribe ritalin? It doesn’t have double blind palcebo controlled studies either, or research into its long term effects. I think if it changes a childs life, then Dr Melillo’s work is well worth the money parents spend. Step outside the evidence based square.

  • Katie, thanks for the comment.

    What’s the source for the assertion that there are no double blind palcebo controlled studies of Ritalin?

    Without using evidence-based methods, how would people reliably establish whether Dr. Melillo’s therapy “changes a childs life?”

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