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Alternative therapies for brain disorders seeing success

Ricky Heilbron is racing a timer as he shoves metal pegs into a wooden board. The 9-year-old wears blue-tinted glasses and a buzzer on his left ear — visual and audio stimulation for the right side of his brain.

Ricky, a third-grader with attention-deficit disorder and Asperger’s syndrome, is among those undergoing a new “brain balance” therapy for kids diagnosed with disorders in the autism spectrum.

At a clinic in Golden, kids propel their bodies across monkey bars, clap their hands to keep up with a metronome that changes tempo, and study reading comprehension and math reasoning.

The Brain Balance Center is one of the latest franchises in a growing number of alternative therapies for autism and related neurological disorders.

No surprise the industry is booming: The chances this year of a child in the United States being diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder are one in 110, up from last year’s rate of one in 150, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That compares with just one in about 10,000 a decade ago.

Researchers debate just how much of that increase is due to better diagnosis and how much is an alarming jump in brain disorders. Some doctors blame more stress and environmental toxins for pregnant women and children, as well as technology — TV, video games and iPods — that keep kids sedentary and focused on fine-motor skills, functions controlled by the left side of the brain.