Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Can Neurofeedback Help with ASD?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the name for what were previously known as four separate disorders including autistic disorder (autism) and Asperger’s disorder. ASD is a complex condition with a complex diagnosis process involving a lot of interpretation and judgment. ASD often co-exists with other diagnoses (called comorbidity by doctors). There is a striking overlap between AD/HD and ASD symptoms, which causes confusion among families, as well as professionals.  When a child is distracted and moves a lot at school or has difficulties to keep focused during a conversation, people often think of AD/HD. However, these symptoms might be confused with ASD symptoms. The first case study applying Neurofeedback to autism was in 1994, 20 years after it was first seen to reduce hyperactivity and led to the significant body of evidence for Neurofeedback for ADHD.

 

Although the evidence for ASD is still building compared with ADHD, we anticipate that before too long, Neurofeedback will be embraced as the treatment of choice for ASD.

 

Research Autism have an excellent summary of Neurofeedback and an extensive summary of peer-reviewed studies on Neurofeedback for ASD. Research Autism have told us they want to do a formal review of Neurofeedback and will do so when they have the time.

 

In this randomized controlled study from 2010, parents of the NF group reported significant improvements in reciprocal social interactions and communication skills. EEG analysis showed 60% of NF group reduced Theta waves in anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) known to be involved in social & executive dysfunctions in autism:

 

  • Kouijzer, M. E., van Schie, H. T., de Moor, J. M., Gerrits, B. J., & Buitelaar, J. K. (2010). Neurofeedback treatment of autism. Preliminary findings in behavioral, cognitive, and neurophysiological functioning.Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4(3), 386-399. In this 2007 study the Neurofeedback group had an 89% success rate improving ASD symptoms, 40% reduction in core ASD symptomology (ATEC scores) and 76% reduction in hyper-connectivity:
  • Coben, R., & Padolsky, I. (2007). Assessment-guided neurofeedback for autistic spectrum disorder.Journal of Neurotherapy, 11(1), 5-23. A further 2009 study showed that the effects lasted beyond 12 months:
  • Kouijzer, M. E., de Moor, J. M., Gerrits, B. J., Buitelaar, J. K., & van Schie, H. T. (2009). Long-term effects of neurofeedback treatment in autism.Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3(2), 496-501.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety can range in number, how intense they are and how often they occur, all depending on the person. The main symptom is that the anxious feelings are irrational and disproportionate to the circumstances.  Other associated symptoms can develop physically and mentally, causing withdrawn and avoiding behavior and a lower self-esteem.

Associated physical symptoms

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness and tiredness
  • Pins and needles
  • Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Head – and/or stomach ache
  • Dry mouth, Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urinating, diarrhoea
  • Painful or missed periods
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)

Associated mental symptoms

  • Restlessness
  • A sense of dread
  • feeling constantly “on edge”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Easily distracted

Treatment for Anxiety

There are many ways to treat anxiety, some benefit from one treatment, others from a combination of treatments. The two main treatment options for (severe) anxiety are psychological therapy, in particular, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or medication. With CBT unhelpful and unrealistic beliefs and behavioral patterns are identified and changed, which can reduce anxiety. Medication (e.g. selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, benzodiazepines) is prescribed for physical as well as mental symptoms, despite unpleasant side effects. Other treatment options are self-help, Applied Relaxation, Parental Anxiety Management, Hypnotherapy and Herbal treatments, caffeine elimination, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), and Psychosurgery. Psychosurgery is rarely used and solely in very extreme cases when other treatment options do not work.

Neurofeedback and Anxiety

Neurofeedback training is a natural, non-invasive and effective choice in reducing Anxiety.

Whilst medication can provide short-term relief by adjusting the chemicals in the brain, neuroplasticity enables Neurofeedback to ‘rewire’ the brain’s electrical circuits permanently.

With Neurofeedback the brain owns self-regulating ability is used to resolve brain-deregulation, resulting in fewer worries and fear, decreased muscle tension, less head – and/or stomach ache, and improved sleeping pattern and better concentration.