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.”