Psychologist Hopes BuzzBee Will “Cure” Hyperactive ChildrenContact: Michele Snipe
New York—Psychology Professor Warren W. Tryon, Ph.D., is consulting with a Westchester company to produce a device to help hyperactive children control their behavior without medication.
"This will hopefully provide an alternative to pharmacological treatment," said Tryon, who specializes in activity measurement as it pertains to assessment, diagnosis and treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other medical conditions that impair behavior. "Putting children on [medication] from pre-school through college is effective, but what does it do to [them]? No one knows that answer. So, I am interested in developing a behavioral alternative."
Tryon conceived of this device based on research conducted in the 1970s by Jerome Schulman, who developed a device that measured activity and provided children with feedback tones through earphones when they exceeded a preset activity level. Schulman's device, which children could wear around their waist, was bulky and never commercially developed.
Tryon brought Schulman's idea to Ambulatory Monitoring, Inc. (AMI), based in Ardsley, N.Y., several years ago and a new device has been in development ever since. Using pager technology, AMI has produced the BuzzBee Feedback Actigraph. Like Schulman's model, the BuzzBee monitors a child's activity level, but is more compact, about the size of a standard pager, and offers visual and tactile feedback.
The BuzzBee registers activity thresholds so that if a child surpasses a lower threshold, the device will vibrate every ten seconds, cueing the child to become less active. If the child continues to be overactive, the vibrations will become more frequent.
Children are rewarded, or not rewarded, based on the amount of feedback they receive.
The first test phase of the BuzzBee, which involved students at a special-needs school in California, was promising, according to Tryon. It suggests that the BuzzBee may provide an effective alternative treatment. Theoretically, this treatment may even be curative if applied early on; from the ages of 3 to 6.
AMI has received federal funding for phase two of the project, which includes improved engineering and additional testing.
In the meantime, Tryon is looking for funding to study the extent to which the device can help children control their activity level during class periods at school. If this research shows promise, he will seek additional funding to investigate whether children's planned effort to modify their behavior activates parts of the brain responsible for behavioral inhibition. A follow up study then investigate whether behavioral self-regulation increases the rate by which inhibitory brain centers develop in preschool children, thereby correcting what is thought to be the underlying cause of ADHD. If the research proves Tryon's hypothesis, it may be possible to use behavioral treatment, rather than medication, to treat ADHD.
"Medication is not curative. Children are less active and more attentive only so long as hey take stimulant medication," said Tryon, a member of the American Board of Professional Psychology. "Taking a pill is easier than implementing behavioral treatments, but parents are increasingly concerned about the long term health consequences of stimulant medication and are seeking alternative treatments."
Tom Kazlausky, the vice president of AMI and the principal investigator on the BuzzBee project, said the BuzzBee should be available for commercial sale by September 2004.
Founded in 1841, Fordham is New York City's Jesuit University. It has residential campuses in the Bronx, Manhattan and Tarrytown, and the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y.