Autism Spectral Disorder (ASD) is a neurological condition that impacts how a person socializes with others, and may include a propensity to perform repetitive behaviors. It’s called a spectral disorder because the severity of the symptoms varies widely among patients, with some showing mild impairment and others severe disability.
On March 27, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data on the prevalence of autism in the United States. This surveillance study identified 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys, and 1 in 189 girls) as having autism spectrum disorder.
Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a high functioning form of ASD, used to be diagnosed as a seperate disorder, but after 2014 it is now considered to be part of the broader category of ASD.
People with ASD may miss social cues that are obvious to others, as well as having a degree of difficulty making and maintaining eye contact.
People with ASD will present with varying degrees of the following symptoms:
- Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others
- Repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities
- Symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life
- Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life
- Some people are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.1
Treatments for Autism Spectral Disorder
Traditional therapies are limited to medication and behavioral therapies, both of which can provide some assistance with the wide range of challenges someone on the spectrum of autism might encounter. Modalities can include social skills training, speech therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Medication may also be given in more severe cases, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antipsychotic drugs, and stimulants.
Neurofeedback for Autism Spectral Disorder
Neurofeedback has shown great promise as a tool to help patients on the spectrum with various symptoms, including speech, motor and sensory integration issues, and sociability.
There is growing anecdotal evidence from patients and therapists that neurofeedback is an effective treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder. There have been some limited studies on neurofeedback and autism, but funding for these is limited and much more work needs to be done. A recent pilot study with 24 children resulted in a 26% average reduction in total ATEC (Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklists) rated autism symptoms, compared to 3% for the control group.
Using a grant from Autism Speaks, Jaime A. Pineda, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the University of California San Diego tested the hypotheses that if mirror neuron activity is deficient in individuals with ASD 1) a type of intervention known as neurofeedback training (NFT) can be used to normalize mu suppression and hence, mirror neuron activity, and 2) such normalization will lead to improvements in behavior, especially in imitation. Results showed that after NFT, mu rhythm suppression in children with ASD progressed towards normal. 2
The most important controlled study to date is titled “Assessment-Guided Neurofeedback for Autistic Spectrum Disorder” by Robert Coben, PhD and Ilean Padolsky, PhD, and revealed that after 20 sessions, improved ratings of ASD symptoms reflected an 89% success rate. Other major findings included a 40% reduction in core ASD symptomatology, compared to control groups where there was significant statistical variation.
Some further resources for Neurofeedback for Autism Spectrum Disorders:
Neurofeedback for the Autism Spectrum By Siegfried and Susan F. Othmer
Updated October 2020