Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism is a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. It is also very common, with as many 200,000 cases a year identified in the U.S. alone.
Autism spectrum disorder impacts the nervous system. The range and severity of symptoms can vary widely, that is why it is called the autistic ‘spectrum’. Common symptoms include difficulty with communication, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive interests, and repetitive behaviors. There is often poor eye contact and speech may be limited to echoing the words of others. The difficulty communicating may even prevent speech. People with autism usually have a hard time recognizing the emotional state of others.
The behavior of autistic individuals can be very hard to understand. Stimming is a common symptom, where the person engages in certain behaviors over and over. This can be rocking, laughing or doodling with body parts or things, even self-harm These behaviors are an attempt to self soothe as the stimuli of the world is often overwhelming to an autistic individual.
How does Neurofeedback therapy help?
A common finding in the autistic brain is that it is very lacking in the alpha frequency. Alpha is the neutral gear of the brain. When we are in alpha, we have relaxed attention. A brain that can’t do this is subject to overwhelm. In addition, there are usually specific sensory processing issues in autism. Sounds do not get perceived as they would for a neurotypical person, touch can be too much. Some autistic individuals do not speak as they cannot stand the sound of their own voices. Others have not developed the neural pathways that allow speech.
Training usually involves amplitude and neuromodulation training to increase alpha. Loreta Neurofeedback helps train the pathways of sensory processing.
I met Charlie when he was 8 years old. He could not be in public without headphones on to dampen the sound. He did not speak spontaneously and when he did it was inarticulate and often just an echo of what had been last said. He did not make eye contact without being directed to. He would often flap his hands about and make sounds like maniacal laughter.
We’ve worked together twice a week for eight years now. I identified a small seizure like discharge in his temporal lobe and helped stabilize that. We have worked on increasing his alpha waves with neuromodulation and neurofeedback. He can now enjoy movies, amusement parks, and social occasions without headphones. He can speak his thoughts clearly, though he does not like the sound of his own voice. He keeps up with regular school classes and is ahead of his class in written English and science. He has friends, who are also on the spectrum.
Lydia found me through her talk therapist when she was 25. She could be described as a high functioning autistic and was gainfully employed in a good job. Lydia had become obsessed with concerns about a friend who is an extreme environmental activist. She was often upset that her friend would be harmed by her beliefs, or that she, Lydia, would say something in disagreement that upset the friendship. She had become increasingly anxious over these issues. Her therapist collaborated that timeline and added that Lydia had always had more anxiety than was comfortable.
Her QEEG revealed an occipital lobe overrun by fast beta waves. This is a signal of hypervigilance. In addition, these fast waves were taking their energy from the alpha frequency which was underpowered in the occipital lobe. There was also a deficit of alpha in the right prefrontal cortex so that her avoidance behavior was always ‘on’!
We used training of parasympathetic nervous system to increase her sense of safety in the world and amplitude training to balance the prefrontal cortex away from its anxious stance. After 10 sessions of neurofeedback, Lydia reported that she was much more comfortable in general and tolerating her friend with much less concern