Average Sleep For A 12 Year Old Boy With Autism Autism and Biofeedback

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Autism and Biofeedback

Johnny, 7 years old, was fascinated by running water for hours, lost in his own world. Like many autistic children, he tiptoed and flailed his arms to self-stimulate in the hope of controlling all the noise in his head. Even minor frustrations turned into emotional breakdowns including seizures.

When Johnny came to his first brain biofeedback sessions, he would retreat under the chairs. He didn’t talk or read. A year and 60 meetings later, he makes friends wherever he goes and acts like the mayor of the waiting room. All of his autistic symptoms are now gone, except that he is reading one year behind grade level. Now he hugs his mom out of love for her.

Autism is a severe lifelong neurobiological disorder characterized by limitations in communication and socialization. Autism has increased at an alarming rate from 5 per 10,000 births in 1970 to 1 in 166 births in 2003. Little is known about the causes of autism and related disorders on the autism spectrum such as Asperger’s syndrome.

Autistic children usually grow normally for 12-18 months and then begin to lose social and communication skills. The ability to imitate disappears. There are usually poor expressive language skills. The outward expression of an autistic child never includes the triad of facial expressions, words and gestures. These children do not socialize with others on the playground. Instead of real relationships, the interactions are utilitarian. Autistic children use people as tools, for example they bring their mother to the refrigerator and guide her hand to get food.

Scientific research and clinical practice show that brain biofeedback is a very promising treatment for autism spectrum disorders. Any biofeedback begins with monitoring an aspect of your body’s functioning and consists of interacting with a representation of your physiology. For example, as people relax, their hands become warmer. Imagine holding a digital thermometer in your fingers and letting the temperature of your hand rise as you relax. Biofeedback is natural, benign and non-invasive. Adverse effects of biofeedback are rare and minor, such as a brief headache.

The most exciting research in autism is brain biofeedback, called neurofeedback. For 35 years, brainwave biofeedback has used EEG-linked software to achieve significant improvement in a number of disorders including seizures, migraines and ADHD. Long-term follow-ups show that the results are permanent and that people can get off their medication.

Recent research proves that neurofeedback also reduces autism symptoms. One recent study reported a 92% success rate with an average reduction in autistic symptoms of 42%. We know that biofeedback improves self-regulation in general. Speculations about how neurofeedback works include encouraging self-repair of communication pathways and promoting maturation of brain functions.

The newest form of neurofeedback is called hemoencephalography (blood brain imaging) or HEG. HEG has been shown to be particularly effective for autism. Infrared heat sensors on the head can detect blood flow in the brain. In HEG biofeedback sessions, you train to increase either blood perfusion or oxygenation in specific areas such as the frontal cortex. Infrared photographs show that the effect lasts for days and that the overall effect is cumulative.

HEG training seems to act like exercise that irrigates underdeveloped areas of the brain. Consider adding more RAM to your computer. Better metabolism in the brain translates into improved neural function that manifests as better behavior and new levels of achievement. Neurofeedback advances mainly include: frustration tolerance, habits, sleep, cognitive, social, emotional, behavioral and executive mental functioning.

As technology advances, specific neurofeedback strategies and combinations are still evolving. Some neurofeedback practitioners focus on correcting brain wave amplitudes and bringing them into line with norms. Some use EEG brain maps to target their training of specific frequencies on specific areas of the scalp; others use symptoms to guide location and frequency. For example, if there are too many fast beta waves in the occipital cortex (corresponding to a busy mind), then sensors would be placed on the back of the head and the client would play computer games that reward reduced activity at 23-38 Hz.

Other experts train excessive EEG signal variability across the entire brainwave spectrum at central locations on the scalp. Some practitioners have clients perform different types of mental processing challenges during training, such as reading or listening to stories.

In addition to brainwave amplitudes, coherence between sites can be a goal of EEG biofeedback training. The idea is that you don’t want too much or too little correspondence between activity in different places in the brain. Specialized brain maps indicate a co-modulation abnormality between each pair of 19 sites. This mapping guides the training to normalize this aspect of the EEG. All of these methods and other approaches are integrated into a neurofeedback regimen in several ways, depending on the case and the practitioner. The standard of practice is not defined.

Using different approaches to neurofeedback, we see almost complete success for 90% of those with migraines in 20 sessions. 40 sessions are required to clear garden variety ADD for 80% of clients. Autistic spectrum disorders are more difficult and require more sessions to achieve more modest results.

Biofeedback software is now so advanced that it is quite simple to use. The price of the equipment has fallen so that it has become practical for some parents to carry out neurofeedback training in their own home under the guidance of an expert.

No one is talking about a complete “cure” for autism. However, clinical successes and experimental research are progressing just as they are for several other disorders that neurofeedback has practically conquered. For autism, there are promising scientific studies of significant improvement and reports of severely impaired clients like Johnny who have completed neurofeedback training without any autistic symptoms.

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