In a comment on someone’s post about alternative autism treatments I mentioned neurofeedback therapy. I stumbled across this intervention while researching autism for my education class, so for the sake of the reader I did not really provide many details about HOW it works, but I was still pretty curious so I tried to find more information on the process. First of all, it was very hard to find information beyond case studied and correlational results that simply stated improvements and progress for many patients. I found a cool website, EEG Spectrum International (http://www.eegspectrum.com/IntroToNeuro/) that uses neurofeedback (they refer to it as biofeedback) to help alleviate symptoms from a huge variety of disorders. Some of the disorders mentioned were ADHD/ADD, anxiety, DEPRESSION, chronic pain, epilepsy, ADDICTION, and autism. (Note the subtle emphasis on the topics we’ve covered… perhaps this is the common link in addition to stress – I bet it’s been used for schizophrenia, too!) Anyway, I’ll just explain a bit about how neurofeedback is used for people with autism.
First, baseline EEG levels over the course of several hours are taken and clinicians work with their patients to determine which behaviors they would like to modify. The clinicians program a computer to detect abnormalities and to know the alterations that must be made to bring brain activity in that region back to normal. Sensors are placed on the scalp, and one on each ear, and are connected to a computer processing system that registers the brain waves and (somehow) integrates it into a sort of video game. For example, when brain activity in a desirable region increases, the game will speed up (or the patient will be rewarded in some other way), and when brain activity in an undesirable region increases, the game will be slowed down/inhibited. Over many trials, the brain presumably “learns” this new brain activity and the person can train him or herself to maintain that activity. The new activity pattern more closely resembles those of pathology-free patients.
The benefits of neurofeedback therapy differ from person to person, as each individuals’ goals are different. Results suggest that it may be more beneficial for individuals with Asperger’s than severe autism, as the patient must be able to engage with the video screen and computer game for a significant amount of time (about 40 minutes), and must be able to tolerate the EEG paraphanelia on his/her body (this can be tough due to hypo/hyper-sensitivity tendencies, and may require some prior training). As for the duration of these effects, this site claims that most patients see improvements by at least their tenth session, and that in general the effects will last indefinitely (though stressors can degrade this newly learned pattern and “booster” sessions may be required). Do you think that this could be a useful and successful therapy for other disorders as well?