Fifteen years ago Dr. Richard Kelly, a chiropractor in Bridgehampton, began a program designed to help children with developmental disorders along the autism spectrum. Dubbed "Maximum Potential," it is a therapy program that aims to improve the social and focal behavior of children through the strengthening of the brain.
Maximum Potential combines cortical plasticity, a method of improving the brain's pathways that may be deficient, with physiological adjustments that seek to improve the way the brain connects to the senses and the rest of the body.
The therapy consists of sensory and cognitive exercises that combine postural and spinal adjustments, aerobic and hand-eye coordination exercises and reflex activity.
"When the brain is in deficit we see challenges to behavior, hyperactive[ness], aggressiveness," Kelly said. "The challenge is the ability to function and stay on task. Instead of just listening to the teacher and performing, they start to twitch around, fidget, they are easily distracted, irritable…they are not gleaning what the teacher is presenting and subsequently not learning."
In addition to his full-time chiropractic practice, Kelly treats about 10 children in the "Maximum Potential" program out of a small office on Suwassett Avenue. The sessions last 20 to 45 minutes depending on the child's abilities to focus.
He described the program not as a treatment, but as a "regiment." Kelly said that it synthesizes nutritional education and exercise with physiological adjustments.
It is designed for children with Obsessive-compulsive disorder, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and autism. At the end of three months, Kelly said there is a 50 to 60 percent improvement in cognitive evaluations.
"What we try to do is a non-pharmacological approach, to rebuild areas of neglect," he said.
Kelly does not oppose the use of medication, but warns it is a temporary treatment.
Medication, he said, is not a cure. "The minute you stop the symptoms come right back," he said.
Kelly also believes that disorders are linked directly to deficiencies brought upon by environmental factors, particularly in three categories: anatomical, which includes spinal/postural abnormality; nutritional; and aerobic exercise.
He thinks schools need to understand why recess is important. "They're not letting off steam, they are stimulating musculature, firing off neurons, increasing endorphins," he said. "They are feeding lobes that work on focusing, that allow children to stay on a baseline."
The first step, he said, is educating families about implementing a healthy, low-sugar diet and eliminating fried and processed foods. Families often see behavioral improvements at the onset of therapy, Kelly said.
Kelly begins the program with a traditional chiropractic evaluation together with cognitive exams and behavioral analysis. He then sets up simple exercises that combine aerobic activity with hand-eye coordination, often nothing more complex than running around bouncing a ball.
After a period of 4 to 6 weeks children have displayed an increase in focus, such as reading alone and spending more time on homework, Kelly said. He also noted physiological and mental adjustments that include better sleep cycles.