Neurofeedback Exercise Improves Autistic Symptoms
> 3/3/2008 1:14:36 PM

Autism would most likely prove a far more manageable condition without the impulsive, uncontrollable behaviors and problematic communication skills exhibited by so many affected patients. While they don't intend to act disruptively, the difficulty these kids encounter when trying to let their needs and emotions be known often turns into tension, frustration, and anger for both child and caregiver. New research indicates that a trusted neurological brain-scanning technique, transformed into a series of interactive video games, may help autistic children train their brains in order to temper the disorder's most difficult behavioral tics.

EEG (electroencephalogrophy) scans have been used for the greater part of a century to diagnose and analyze virtually all types of neurological dysfunction, be they born of epilepsy, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, brain injury, etc. Because problems with neural connectivity lie at the root of most autism cases, EEG scans are a regular occurrence and a crucial tool for patients. The somewhat belabored scanning process, which can be of the clinical or take-home variety, currently involves linking an external hard drive to a series of wires which are then connected, most often via gel-based adhesive, to a patient's scalp. This device then monitors the actions of the patient's brain in order to create a visual representation of the electromagnetic activity within. The results essentially turn brain waves into graphs: the cellular connections in our brains move in very dependable repeating patterns known as "alpha waves," and these can be monitored for irregularities much like the pulse, heart rate, and other cyclical bodily functions. Clinicians can differentiate specific symptomatic pattern shifts from those brought on by anxiety, sleep, and physical activity, and they monitor the standard functions of a patient's brain with EEGs that can range from one hour to several days in length.

The neurofeedback approach essentially allows patients to "train" their brains in order to comply with the operations of a video game-like computer tool. In order to perform the tasks on the screen at hand, patients must learn to regulate or calm their own minds, counteracting the erratic neurology created by a condition like autism or ADHD. The games operate on data provided by the EEG and follow the patterns displayed by the brain of the participating patient. Desirable brain activity leads to rewards and unwanted patterns inhibit play. This is not a process of which the patient must be wholly conscious; children are, in the best case scenario, learning to control their symptoms and establish a neural equilibrium without even knowing it. The experience is somewhat difficult to describe in detail, but patients who try too hard to think about their movements and "play" the game in the traditional sense will not perform as well; the brain allows play to progress by instinct more than anything else. Young autistic children find this aspect of treatment easier than most as they rarely intellectualize tasks before or during their performance. The longer children play these games, the more comfortable they become in subconsciously self-induced states of balance. Brains trained to behave in this way will, with time, repeat the same patterns outside the clinic.

This approach has proven most famously successful in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder and ADHD, training the mind to avoid certain triggers or draw itself back from the pit of anxiety into which affected patients so often fall. But neurofeedback has begun to be tested as a supplementary autism treatment, and parents and teachers report very positive results: a 2006 study claimed a 40% reduction in troublesome symptoms, and subsequent scans showed decreases in the state of neural overactivity that leads to many of the behavioral concerns in autistic patients. On an individual level, participating parents have reported the following improvements from their children after neurofeedback treatments: more understandable, less repetitive speech patterns; greater ability for peer interaction; greater tolerance for physical contact and affection; improved sense of physical balance; more appropriate responses to given directions; energy levels brought down to a manageable level; more stable emotional constitutions.

Certainly sounds like a dream come true for parents and therapists, but neurofeedback remains a relatively new treatment technique, and it obviously will not work for everyone. The children effectively treated with neurofeedback techniques have most often been very high-functioning, and even in the most successful cases the treatment often proves difficult: many autistic children develop an aversion to both sensory overstimulation and physical contact, so getting a child into the office and placing the sensors on his or her head may be the largest obstacle in the series. Still, this continued development is a potential godsend for all those affected by autism spectrum disorders.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy