Information on Neurofeedback and Autism therapies for Autism and Aspergers syndreome - common Autism Spectrum Disorders


Neurofeedback (NFB), also called neurotherapy, neurobiofeedback or EEG biofeedback is a controversial therapy technique that presents the user with realtime feedback on brainwave activity, as measured by electrodes on the scalp, typically in the form of a video display, sound or vibration. The aim is to enable conscious control of brainwave activity. If brain activity changes in the direction desired by the therapist, a positive “reward” feedback is given to the individual, and if it regresses, either a negative feedback or no feedback is given (depending on the protocol). Rewards can be as simple as a change in pitch of a tone or as complex as a certain type of movement of a character in a video game. This experience could be called operant conditioning for internal states.


Neurofeedback as an intervention for Autism and Asperger's

As with many suggested therapies for Autism and Asperger's syndrome, there is a lack of rigorous testing to date. Neurofeedback may alleviate some Autism symptoms, according to a pilot study on eight children. The therapy involves the placement of electrodes on the scalp and the training of individuals to control their own brain waves. After ten weeks of therapy, five of the children performed better on tasks involving imitation. Individuals with Autism are thought to have mu wave dysfunction, associated with mirror neurons. These brain cells play a critical role in mimicking the behaviors of others and in development of the capacity for empathy and understanding of others.


It should be noted that there is a lack of any rigorous reseach that would establish Neurofeedback as an evidence-based intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorders.


The most common use of neurofeedback is in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) which is a common comorbid disorder with Autism and Asperger's. Proponents claim that ADHD is often characterized by an abundance of slow brainwaves and a diminished quantity of fast wave activity; neurofeedback treatment seeks to teach individuals to produce more normalized EEG patterns.


Some ADHD researchers are unconvinced by these studies, including the psychiatry professor and author of several books on ADHD, Russell Barkley. Barkely opines that neurotherapy’s effectiveness in treating ADHD can be ascribed to either uncontrolled case studies or the placebo effect. In return, neurofeedback advocates note that Barkely has received research funds and personal remuneration from drug giant Eli Lilly and Company and other drug companies. Other areas where neurofeedback has been researched include treatment of substance abuse, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and MTBI.


Criticisms and Recent Court Cases

In the United States, neurofeedback is being used as an addition to many psychotherapists practices as a boost to a sagging ‘talk-therapy’ practice. Since in most states there are no licensing requirements therapists who have little knowledge of physiology or computer technology can use the equipment with little oversight. The client can be hooked up and the computer program does the training with little effort on the therapist’s part. It adds a ‘high-tech’ affect to the session and makes the whole procedure seem more credible. In the Gravelle case in Huron, Ohio 11 adoptive children were given thousands of hours of neurofeedback training at a great cost to the county with seemingly little improvement in their conditions. The criticism is that neurotherapy was given to them for an array of different problems simply because the funds were so easily available

Some neurofeedback equipment companies make extraordinary claims based on the scientific appeal of electronics and the mysteries of the brain. For example, some brain training products are sold to consumers promising to raise IQ and self-esteem, or to enable zen meditative and deep hypnotic states. Furthermore, paranormal abilities such as remote viewing, past life regression, and other psychic phenomena are claimed by some marketers to commonly result from use of their neurofeedback machines or programs.


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Debate continues over whether neurofeedback is an intervention therapy for Autism and Asperger syndrome