Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a broad neurodevelopmental condition characterized by restricted interests and social skills, repetitive behaviors, and speech and communication difficulties. Research hasn’t pinpointed the exact causes of autism. However, it is believed that the condition most likely results from a combination of genetics and environmental, neurodevelopmental, immune system, and gut-brain factors. And while no single characteristic is present in every case, there are differences commonly observed in autistic brains.

While there is no therapy, activity, or drug currently known that can “cure” autism or remedy some of the brain differences, there is abundant scientific proof that neurofeedback training can minimize many symptoms, sometimes significantly.

How Neurofeedback Can Modify the Autistic Brain

Neurofeedback is a non-invasive, painless, drug-free method to teach a person’s brain healthier ways to function, including optimizing brain wave amplitudes, enhancing connectivity between different parts of the brain, and adjusting the level of activity and responsiveness of specific areas of the brain. The brain learns these things at a subconscious level and creates permanent changes that last after the training sessions. For a detailed explanation of exactly what happens in a neurofeedback training session, go here.

Because it alters the functional connections in the brain and adjusts brainwaves to optimal levels, neurofeedback training has been shown to significantly improve many of the challenges that can accompany autism — including impaired cognitive abilities, mood and behavior regulation, and sleep, attention, and focus issues — and reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity. While every child is unique, we commonly hear from parents that their children become calmer, are better able to interact socially and manage their emotions, and aren’t as easily overwhelmed.

Autism Parenting Magazine said:

“… 30% of people with autism have epilepsy. Neurofeedback has a long-established record of success with epilepsy… It also works rather well with ADD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, which are present in about 50% of people with autism.

The bottom-line question for many parents is how much progress they are likely to see in how many sessions. There are published studies that indicate very substantial progress in 18 sessions by combining simple training for enhancing single-pointed focus and stabilizing the brain’s system for understanding and reacting to events…”

One Case Study of Treating Autism with Neurofeedback

Research on treating autism with neurofeedback is insufficient to date. Unlike medication, the therapy hasn’t been rigorously tested in large, double-blind studies. Hopefully, we will see more and higher quality research in the coming years. The reality is also that each case of autism is unique and what works for one person may not work for another. However, you don’t know what works until you try it. The same article in Autism Parenting Magazine advised:

“Exploring the feasibility of using neurofeedback training for any child or adult five and over with autistic, attention, and/or epileptic problems may well be worth the effort.”

In a case study of a five-year-old boy with ASD, who received a treatment of 26 sessions of ILF neurofeedback¹ over a six-month period, researchers used systematic and quantitative tracking of several categories of core ASD symptoms to document behavioral changes over time. The ILF neurofeedback intervention decreased the average symptom severity of every category to a remarkable degree, with the strongest effect (80 and 77 percent mean severity reduction) for physical and sleep symptoms and the lowest influence on behavioral symptoms (15 percent mean severity reduction).

The researchers concluded:

“The results presented on the intervention in a child with ASD indicate that ILF neurofeedback is a suitable clinical training method for addressing a diverse range of autistic behaviors characteristic of this spectrum disorder in children, and that it can help to reduce their developmental deficits through enhanced self-regulation of the central nervous system.

Given the degree of progress achieved in 26 sessions of ILF neurofeedback intervention over 6 months, the method appears to be cost-effective as well as clinically effective. It also directly addresses connectivity mechanisms central to ASD, thus laying the basis for further improvements with maturation.”

Here Are the Autistic Symptoms Science Confirms Neurofeedback Helps With

I would be wary of any service, neurofeedback or other, claiming that it can cure autism. The science (and my experience treating clients) just does not support that. However, traditional medicine has very little to offer people with autism. Therefore, any improvement in symptoms or reduction in challenges and medication can be a big deal and provide life-changing benefits. Science does absolutely support that neurofeedback can significantly improve the following areas:

A boy playing with blocks

Cognitive Abilities

Because neurofeedback fine tunes the brain, it’s a proven tool for a student, musician, athlete, executive to achieve optimal performance mentally and physically. Neurofeedback can help any individual heighten their focus, attention, creativity, and concentration and increase alertness, reaction time, motor skills, and bodily control.

Specifically, research shows that neurofeedback training can increase cognitive abilities in people with ASD. In one randomized clinical trial that was conducted on 50 participants with ASD between the ages of 6 and 18, neurofeedback (NFB) reduced cognitive impairment. The study

“NFB succeeded in decreasing children’s high theta/beta [brainwave] ratio by inhibiting theta activity and intensifying beta activity over different sessions. Following therapy, the children’s cognitive functions were found to show comparative improvement compared to pre-treatment assessment on a range of different tasks. Auxiliary improvements were found in their social, thought and attention domains.”

Mood and Behavior

Neurofeedback has been scientifically proven to successfully treat mood and behavior disorders, including depression, anxiety, anger issues, obsessive-compulsive and bipolar disorder, substance abuse, PTSD, trauma, and more. And, neurofeedback has proven highly successful in minimizing the mental and behavioral symptoms of ADHD and ADD. While these conditions and disorders are distinct from autism, there is a great deal of overlap in conditions.

Many scientific studies have confirmed the effectiveness of neurofeedback for treating mild to treatment-resistant depression as being much better than medication. One study found the response and remission rates to be 58 and 50 percent respectively after only 12 weeks of neurofeedback training.

Neurofeedback can also ease and reverse anxiety by turning down the brain’s stress response and dialing up the brain’s relaxation response. To get technical, a brain needs to increase its slow wave activity so that the mind and body become less aroused and reactive. Research proves that neurofeedback can do that.

A girl sleeping with a stuffed toy


Going to sleep, staying asleep, and getting good quality sleep are all in the brainwaves. Neurofeedback can positively impact sleep because it can work directly on the areas of the brain that regulate sleep. Specifically, ISF neurofeedback has been shown to help people improve sleep onset, quality, and consistency, and helped them feel less depressed and anxious during the day. Further research found that ISF frequencies directly impact neurons in a person’s brain that influence their circadian rhythms, which is the 24-hour biological clock influencing sleep cycles. When the brain is functioning optimally, sleep can improve surprisingly quickly. Sleep is the foundation for a healthy brain that performs better — in people with and without ASD.

Attention and Focus

Challenges paying attention and focusing are symptoms commonly seen with ADHD and ADD. While using neurofeedback to improve ASD has not been studied extensively to date, using it for ADHD and ADD has been more thoroughly researched. Neurofeedback can teach the brain to produce the brain-wave patterns associated with focusing and reduce impulsivity, distractibility, and acting out. Vincent Monastra, Ph.D., founder of the FPI Attention Disorders Clinic in Endicott, NY, and author, conducted a year-long, uncontrolled study with 100 children who were taking medication, half of whom also received neurofeedback.

Monastra’s results indicate that “patients who did not receive the [neurofeedback] therapy lost most of the positive effects of treatment one week after they were taken off medication.” Those who combined medication with neurofeedback, maintained their ability to control attention after stopping medication. According to Monastra, “after the year of neurofeedback therapy, some patients were able to reduce medication dosage by as much as 50 percent.”

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity

Again, hyperactivity and impulsivity are core symptoms of ADHD and ADD. In both conditions, the frontal areas of the brain tend to be under functioning. The brain’s prefrontal cortex controls a person’s higher-level functions, including judgment, impulse control, management of aggression, emotional regulation, self-regulation, planning, reasoning, and social skills. When there is an excessive number of slow waves present here, it can become difficult to control attention, behavior, and emotions.

One meta-analysis looking at treating symptoms of ADHD, specifically inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, and only including studies of the highest scientific standards, concluded that neurofeedback treatment can produce large-scale improvements for inattention and impulsivity and medium-scale improvements for hyperactivity.


Every brain and individual with autism is unique, and a treatment plan tailored to that person’s specific strengths, challenges, and needs is going to be the most effective. The results of any one type of treatment are going to vary among individuals. A multidisciplinary strategy involving a variety of approaches, including lifestyle modifications, a strong network of involved health professionals, educators, therapists, and parents, and alternative therapies, such as neurofeedback, often provide the most comprehensive support for a person with autism.

At Grey Matters of Carmel, we are passionate about helping people live their best lives, including optimizing their brain’s health and function. Give us a call at (317) 215-7208 or send us a message today to talk about how we can help you or a loved one.

1  ILF neurofeedback focuses on the slowest brain waves involved in regulating the brain’s stress response. When this response isn’t properly regulated, the brain is hypervigilant and gets easily triggered. The goal of ILF training is to help the brain become less aroused and move control to the parasympathetic nervous system. Research and clinical observations show that people often experience a change in their heart rate, muscle tension, and skin temperature as they move out of fight-or-flight mode into a calmer, more relaxed state.

It was primarily developed empirically, based on clinical observations from “frequency band” training protocols and those neurofeedback methods that utilized slow cortical potentials (SCP) in the EEG frequency range below 0.1 Hz, the so-called ILF range (Othmer and Othmer, 2016). The applied treatment protocol of ILF neurofeedback captures in a continuously recorded full-band EEG both the time course of the surface potential in the ILF range and supra threshold power densities of nine discrete frequency bands in the 0.5–40 Hz spectral range and processes all of this into audio-visual feedback signals for the patient (Legarda et al., 2011; Othmer et al., 2011; Othmer, 2015; Othmer and Othmer, 2016; Grin-Yatsenko et al., 2018).