Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder than can affect social and communicative behaviors. It’s often diagnosed early in childhood, but continues to impact an individual throughout their lifespan. The severity and presence of certain symptoms varies from person to person and can cause challenges in social, occupational, and educational functioning.
Many individuals on the autism spectrum are able to lead fairly “typical” lives and need minimal support from caretakers. Others may experience more difficulty with life tasks, especially within social and learning environments. For some, certain aspects of their ASD might actually be beneficial. The main challenges faced by folks with ASD are problems with social communication and interaction, as well as repetitive, restrictive behaviors.
Neurotherapy strives to address the aspects of ASD that are problematic for the individual while maintaining beneficial skills and traits. We do this by addressing physiological imbalances in the brain that are linked to their struggles.
How it looks in the brain
While it is still unknown why some individuals develop ASD and why such variance in symptom severity exists, a strong body of research suggests the neurobiological roots of this disorder stem predominately from the Central Nervous System.
There are a variety of brain patterns that have been associated with different types of ASD and the particular symptoms an individual struggles with. For this reason, it is important to complete a brain assessment to determine the exact brain patterns that most likely underlie the problematic symptoms and behaviors of each individual.
Atypical connectivity patterns within the brain seem to explain some of the challenges experienced by those with ASD. EEG and fMRI imaging demonstrate a surplus of synapses and connections between certain regions, which can make it difficult for a person to switch between tasks and ideas. This might underlie the repetitive and restrictive behaviors often exhibited by those with ASD. Hyperconnectivity and inefficient communication between neurons can also affect other important processes such as motor control, interpretation of social cues, and language production/analysis.
Areas of the brain associated with sensory integration and processing also tend to show more “randomized” activity in the EEGs of those with ASD. Such activity can make it more difficult for individuals to process and tolerate sensory information. Additionally, some ASD individuals show an excess of slow brainwave frequencies (e.g., delta/theta) throughout the brain, leading to significant impairments in learning and cognitive processing. They may also show an excess of faster frequencies in regions related to stress and anxiety, leading to heightened emotional reactivity.
Furthermore, the brains of those diagnosed with ASD often show reduced activation levels within imitation-related brain areas when compared to individuals without ASD. Limited functioning of these areas is thought to contribute to a variety of ASD symptoms, especially those related to social interactions.
How we can help
At NeuroGrove, the first step of any treatment package is a comprehensive assessment that includes QEEG brain mapping, LORETA 3D neuroimaging, neurocognitive testing, and a thorough discussion of psychosocial history, symptoms, and goals. This allows us to assess for the brain patterns most commonly associated with ASD and related symptomology.
From there, both neurofeedback and neurostimulation can be used to alter brainwave activity in the necessary directions and improve connectivity patterns between regions to help the brain function more efficiently and effectively. Pairing neurotherapy with other NeuroGrove services can further enhance the effectiveness of these interventions and support overall brain-body wellness. For example, peripheral biofeedback can be utilized to teach stress reduction skills, increase sensory tolerance, and balance the nervous system.
Functional medicine and personalized nutrition can also be utilized to assess for chemical imbalances, digestive issues, or nutritional factors that could be exacerbating symptoms. We will then meet you/your child where you/they are with these services to help implement feasible and appropriate diet and lifestyle changes. Our integrative psychotherapy services can also support the implementation of such changes, as well as provide additional coping skills, strategies, and emotional support.
What the research says
Coben & Myers (2010) sorted through extensive EEG data from individuals with ASD. Their findings confirmed that both hyper- and hypo-connectivity issues exist, implying that certain brain areas are not communicating enough information while others are communicating too much. They then compared the results of two studies examining the efficacy of using neurofeedback as an intervention for ASD. One study focused on a symptom based protocol for neurofeedback training while the other utilized protocols guided by each participants’ individual brain connectivity data. Both forms of neurofeedback demonstrated significant results, although the EEG-based neurofeedback showed greater overall improvements on the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist. This suggests that individualized, assessment-based neurofeedback protocols, like we use at NeuroGrove, provided the most effective approach to correcting connectivity issues and providing relief to individuals with ASD.
- Coben, R., & Myers, T. E. (2010). The relative efficacy of connectivity guided and symptom based EEG biofeedback for autistic disorders. Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback, 35(1), 13–23.
Datko, Pineda, and Muller (2018) researched whether neurofeedback training targeting sensorimotor mu-rhythm could improve imitation-related brain activation in children with high-functioning ASD. They used a control group of similarly aged children without ASD diagnoses for comparison. The outcomes showed that this form of neurofeedback did in fact increase activation of mirror neurons during imitation tasks, in line with observable neurophysiological changes within the neurofeedback-trained regions. This suggests that neurofeedback focused on sensorimotor mu training could help improve social functioning for individuals on the spectrum.
- Datko, M., Pineda, J. A., & Müller, R. (2018). Positive effects of neurofeedback on autism symptoms correlate with brain activation during imitation and observation. European Journal of Neuroscience, 47, 579-591. doi:10.1111/ejn.13551
For more research studies on this topic, please see our Research page.