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How Neurofeedback Helps Autism Spectrum Disorder

How Neurofeedback Helps Autism Spectrum Disorder

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How Neurofeedback Helps Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

1 in 68 children has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the United States (Center for Diseases Prevention and Control); 1% of the population in Singapore is diagnosed with ASD; 1,100,000 cases of autism have been identified in China (World Health Organization). While there is no official registry for individuals diagnosed with ASD, a prevalence rate of 1:625 children between 18 to 26 months are diagnosed with ASD (Ministry of Health, Malaysia). Including the figures from other countries, there is a seemingly increasing rate of ASD with approximately 67 million people worldwide being affected with ASD.

ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized with impairments in communication, behavior, and socialization from childhood. As ASD is a spectrum disorder, individuals may experience different symptoms ranging from mild to severe, and may have different co-morbidities accompanied. Co-morbidities and other learning difficulties include intellectual disability, ADHD, sleep problems, epilepsy, gastrointestinal problems, motor coordination deficits, and other psychiatric disorders (e.g., oppositional defiant disorder, Tourette Syndrome, tics, anxiety disorder, and depressive disorder).

It is recommended to treat individuals with ASD in a multidisciplinary approach since the disorder affects an individual in many aspects. The conventional treatment consists of non-pharmacological treatment such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Speech, Language and Communication Intervention, Social Story, Occupational Therapy, Parent Education and Support, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Pharmacotherapy on the other hand includes atypical antipsychotics (AAP), antidepressants, and other drugs. Early interventions are the best options for ASD and doctors or professionals have urge parents to start the various interventions at an early stage.

With the increasing rate of ASD estimated to affect approximately 1% of the general population, many are seeking for alternative treatments alongside with the conventional treatments. Among the available alternative treatments, Neurofeedback (NFB) has gained much attention in the recent years as a treatment for children with ASD.

Controlled studies are building up evidence that suggests the effective use of neurofeedback in improving symptoms of ASD.

What are the improvements reported after Neurofeedback training?

(Depending on severity, treatment duration varies)

Attention

• As measured by test batteries and questionnaires, there is significant improvements in attention.

o Improved in imitation ability (e.g., being able to imitate what others are doing)

o Increased in sensory/ cognitive awareness

o Improved in sustained attention

o Improvement in sustained auditory selective attention (e.g., being able to pay attention to someone who is talking to them).

Executive function

• As measured by different test batteries and questionnaire such as Wide Range Achievement Test and Wechsler Intelligence Scales, there is improvements reported to the child’s performance.

o Cognitive flexibility

o Concept generation (e.g., being able to sort cards according to different categories)

o Goal-setting ability

o Set-sifting/ task-shifting (e.g., being able to shift attention from one task to another)

Reduction in Symptoms

• As measured by test batteries and questionnaires such as the Australian Scale for Asperger Syndrome, studies have reported reduction in autistic symptoms.

o Reduced in repetitive movements (inhibition of motor responses)

o Reduction in hyperactivity

o Reduced in sensory overload

Social Communication Skills

• With the use of few different measures such as The Children’s Communication Checklist and Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC), parents have reported improvements in child’s language and interaction skills.

o Communication and social interaction (e.g., better reciprocal interactions; more responsive when interacting with both verbal and non-verbal skills)

o Reduction in problem behaviors

While study results are not consistent to date, various studies investigating the effectiveness of neurofeedback and ASD have concluded positive results. These increasing body of evidence are providing another opening for the betterment of treating and improving.

Contributed by:

Jolene Yeo

Psychologist of Spectrum of Life Integrative Wellness Centre