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Neurofeedback Helps Those With Autism, Study Finds
by David Dubin, MD, ScienceDaily (Feb. 28, 2008)
Research on autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) shows that neurofeedback (EEG biofeedback) can remediate anomalies in brain activation, leading to symptom reduction and functional improvement.
This evidence raises the hopes for a behavioral, psychophysiological intervention moderating the severity of ASD.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a lack of appropriate eye contact, facial expression, social interaction, communication, and restricted repetitive behavior.
ASD represents a group of disorders, including Autism, PDD-nos, Rett’s Disorder, Child Disintegrative Disorder, and Asperger’s Disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006) reported the prevalence of ASD as 2 to 6 per 1,000.
Research has shown that related symptoms of ASD are the result of brain dysfunction in multiple brain regions. Functional neuroimaging and electroencephalography research have shown this to be related to abnormal neural connectivity problems.
The brains of individuals with ASD show areas of both excessively high connectivity and deficient connectivity. In other words, some areas of the brain are chatting excessively with themselves, while failing to communicate normally with other relevant regions.
In one 2006 study using connectivity-guided neurofeedback, pre-post analyses showed a 40 percent reduction in autistic symptoms, enhancement of function between the brain and behavior, and reduction of hyperconnectivity. Neurofeedback is capable of significantly remedying these anomalies and reducing autistic symptoms.
Child Adolesc Psychiatric Clin N Am 14 (Jan. 2005) Emerging brain-based interventions for children and adolescents: overview and clinical perspective
Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Based largely on word of mouth communication among parents of children with autistic spectrum disorder, there is rapidly growing clinical experience with EBF. In one published controlled group study of EBF for autism , 24 autistic participants were randomly assigned either to the EBF treatment or to a waitlist control group.
Twenty or more sessions (average, 36) of EBF using a standard protocol were given. EBF participants showed significant improvements on measures of sociability, communication, health, and sensory awareness compared with controls.
There is a strong consensus among EBF clinicians who work with ASD that EBF offers substantial benefit to a significant portion of this population. It seems to be helpful to more severe autistic individuals and those with high functioning autism and Asperger’s disorder. Approximately 70% to 80% of patients with ASD benefit from the treatment. The degree of benefit ranges from mild to profound.
For example, one 4-year-old boy recently was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (NOS). He had severe behavioral and emotional self-regulation problems, with episodes of extreme aggression toward his brother and parents and self-injurious behavior, such as biting and head banging many times daily. He spoke in two- to three-word phrases, primarily echolalic, engaged in considerable repetitive behavior, and showed little social engagement, even with his mother.
After 3 months of twice weekly EBF sessions, aggressive behavior and tantrums had largely subsided, language had improved markedly, he began to engage in parallel and some joint pretend play with peers, and relating with his parents and brother had improved markedly.
Generally, improvements are seen in attention and other aspects of executive function, in anxiety and emotional self-regulation, and in the degree to which a child is tuned in to or engaged with the world around him rather than being ‘‘in his own world.’’ It seems to be the case that EBF treatment in ASD requires many more sessions than for other disorders; therefore, home training under the supervision of the clinician is sometimes used.
The rationale for use of neurofeedback for ASD is similar to that for psychopharmacology. Virtually all children with ASD have significant attention deficits and impulsivity. Virtually all children with ASD also suffer from anxiety, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and mood disturbances. EBF, like medications for ASD, is targeted at these areas of dysfunction.
© 2011 David Dubin, MD Used by permission of the author
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