Neurofeedback for Autism

Neurofeedback was recently highlighted in an article by the Oakland Press for its use with Autism Patients.

Clinical psychologist Thomas Brown (right) attaches sensors to an autistic 10 year old named Andrew of Holly. Brown is an expert in autism and uses a brain wave feedback method to help children with the disorder.

At first glance, it seems like magic.

But after listening to clinical psychologist Thomas Brown explain it, an innovative treatment for autism makes sense.

One of the latest techniques that is bringing some children diagnosed with autism back to normal behavioral ranges is called neural feedback.

During treatment, a child with autism has leads placed on his or her head.

Wires from the leads are then attached to a device that connects with a computer to monitor his or her brain waves.

Then, what seems to be made of science fiction begins.

Brown, who founded the Autism & Behavioral Support Center in Auburn Hills and is affiliated with the Macomb Oakland Regional Center, tells his young patients to just think about moving objects in games loaded on a computer.

Suddenly, objects, such as a dolphin or a spaceship, move on the monitor — manipulated not by a mouse, but by thought, in this case, from 10-year-old patient Andrew of Holly.

During a 20-minute session, Andrew moved the spaceship through space toward the sun and back to Earth; had dolphins swimming and jumping and then watched a DVD movie.

If he failed to focus properly, the dolphins or spaceship stopped or the picture on the movie dimmed.

As a result of about 10 treatments, regions of Andrew’s brain are being “rewired” so that brainwave activity, measured by an electroencephalograph, shows normal activity, Brown said.

A regime of treatment starts with a $375 “mapping of the brain, which shows areas of the brain that are over- or underactive,” he added.

Each treatment costs $75 and “we can see results by the sixth session,” said Brown, who went to Brigham Young University for his bachelor’s degree and earned his master’s degree in clinical psychology from JFK University in the San Francisco Bay area.

The treatment usually is 20 sessions, each 20 minutes long, he said. Patients need not be verbal to have success.

“I had a boy about 12, named Diego,” said Brown, who has been working in the field of autism for 30 years. “I never knew if he was going to become aggressive.

“After four months of treatments, he’s now on the swim team and getting A’s in school. He’s also in a drama club at school,” Brown added.

Before the neural feedback treatment, Diego had an explosive temper and would fixate for hours on a problem, he said.

For reasons yet to be determined, autism has become a “worldwide epidemic.”

The number of cases in Europe and the United States have risen 1,500 percent during the past decade, Brown said.

In India, where Brown frequently travels to give neural feedback treatments to those with autism, the number of people with autism is rampant — “beyond our ability to accurately count them.”

One in 150 children is diagnosed with autism and one in 94 boys has the disability, which is usually discovered by the age of 2 or 3.

“The levels are continuing to climb,” Brown said. “We’re seeing more kids in Oakland County schools with autism.”

There are about 2,500 students in Oakland with autism, he estimated.

The number of children with autism in Oakland outnumber the number of students in the school system with emotional disabilities, Brown added.

Brown believes autism is a combination of a physiological predisposition “and we’re poisoning our kids with heavy metals in the environment such as cadmium, nickel and aluminum.”

Autism is characterized by an impairment in social communication that can range from mild to severe.

“A lot of times these kids’ brains are somewhat disorganized, and they have excessive amounts of brainwave activity that leads to disruptive behavior, anxiety and numerous fears.

“What I’m basically doing is retraining the brain to come back down to a normalized pattern” with the neural feedback technique, Brown said.

The EEG is done to determine what part of the brain of someone with autism is dysfunctional, he added.

“Basically, we’re dealing with the entire cerebral cortex, frontal lobes and deeper central regions of the brain,” he said.

The prefrontal cortex controls problem solving, emotion and complex thought. The visual and language centers of the brain are near the Broca and Wernicke areas of the brain on the left side of the cortex.

“What we do is to compare a child’s EEG with a normative database and then what we do with the computer games is to train the child to make the games go by thought, which helps their brain return to a more normal state of activity,” Brown said.

“The games reorganize the excessive brain wave activity” and those who have undergone the treatment have better attention spans, calmer behavior, less anxiety, increased speech and comprehension, improved reading skills and better sleep patterns, Brown said.

“I’ve seen a lot of change in most cases,” he said. “I see a lot less high Beta activity and a lot less hypo (slow) activity in the frontal lobes.

“This translates into less anxiety for those with autism.”

The whole world is “uncertain” to a person with autism so they are unable to “interpret” what is going on, Brown said.

“What they’ll do, in turn, to compensate will be to engage in hand clapping, rocking back and forth or moving a toy car back and forth for hours,” he said.

“After treatments, hopefully, they and their brain understand the world better and can respond appropriately to their environment,” Brown said.

“Once we get the brain activity to stabilize to a more normal pattern, it should stay that way hopefully for the rest of the patient’s life.”

He’s been working with the neural feedback treatment with success for 21⁄2 years, Brown said.

Medical insurance generally won’t pay for the treatment, he said.

Another technique used to treat those with autism is “relationship treatment.”

Psychologists look for “gaps” in normal childhood development.

“A lot of times when autism sets in the early developmental abilities are wiped out,” said Brown, referring to being able to communicate or interpret the world around oneself.

“We have certain exercises we do,” he said. “We use more descriptive speech and try to create small changes in the rigid routines” that some people, such as the “Rainman” in the movie with Dustin Hoffman, develop.

It takes about a year to change behavior using relationship training, Brown said.

“We teach them to be able to read other people’s emotions by understanding facial expressions, gestures and we do this by amplifying our expressions such as giving a great big smile” to indicate happiness.

Brown says he knows if the treatment is working based on the responses of the child with autism.

He also is using neural feedback and relationship treatment in tandem on some patients.

“I’m convinced the two methodologies being used together works.”

2 thoughts on “Neurofeedback for Autism”

  1. If one were interested in this technology, specifically for use as a pointer for a computer graphical user operating system, whether windows, mac, or linux, what components might one purchase?

    I approach this from an interest in a product called MindDrive, which was actively marketed in the late 90’s. The MindDrive system allowed the user to play games. It did not, however, function as a fully functional “mouse”. I’m curious if the technology to make use of biofeedback to produce mouse movements is available.

    • It is technically possible. You could easily have control of 4 directions using feedback. We demonstrated this with out Biofeedback Raceway which could have been more than just throttle to the cars. Each lane could have represented a direction. We have played around a bit with IR controlled toys using feedback and these devices use forward, backward, left and right movements. So yes this can be done.


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