Neurofeedback for Autism

Neurofeedback Autism

If you’ve been reading our general pages on NeurOptimal, you know that this is not a treatment for autism (or any other condition). It IS a way of training the brain to release itself from patterns that have become habitual and are not enabling the person to function as well as they might. So we frequently see it helping with anxiety, depression, ADHD, insomnia, and many other issues.

We have worked with a small number of children on the spectrum, and have seen positive results, often fairly quickly. In addition, we have quite a few neurofeedback colleagues who specialize in working with this population, and they are universally enthusiastic about the changes they and the parents see.

If you have a child on the spectrum, we’d love to explore whether this approach might be helpful to you and your child.

But wait! If this is not a group we have lots of experience with, why have a created a web page with this focus? In the past year, we have worked with two adolescents with this diagnosis, and their response has been so striking and positive that we wanted to let you eavesdrop on a conversation Jean recently had with one of them about his experience.

Interview with EK

EK is a wonderful 18 year old young man who has been doing NeurOptimal neurofeedback for about nine months. His grandma bought a system once she began to see the changes happening for him, and he has trained with her consistently since then.

He has been diagnosed with ADHD, depression, PTSD (as a result of bullying in elementary school), but probably the critical diagnosis was Pervasive Developmental Disorder NOS (atypical autism). As you will see, he is extremely bright, but has struggled in school. He is fortunate to have attended a fabulous school designed to make success possible for students who learn in ways that don’t fit traditional classroom structures. In spite of being in that very supportive school setting, he has struggled socially.

We originally intended just to use a few brief quotes, but E was so charming and insightful that we’ve included almost the entire conversation, just editing out our occasional forays into artificial intelligence and the relative unpleasantness of liver and broccoli.

We wish you could hear E’s voice, and catch how engaged and delightfully interactive he is, but the sound quality is not good enough for that.

JA. Tell me a little about what neurofeedback has done for you.

EK. It’s done a lot—not a little. Before I started doing neurofeedback, I had been seeing every psychiatrist, every psychologist, doing everything in the book to try to calm myself down, think more fluently, make me make better choices. I’ve had a problem with making smart choices—for everybody’s wellbeing, not just for my own. And that complicated home life; it complicated school.

JA. Could you give me an example of that?

EK. When I’d do something that wasn’t a good choice, I had an old habit of trying to lie my way out of it, and trying not to get caught. Now I don’t do those things any more—it’s helped my conscience get better.

Home life wasn’t going well because of that. School…I was procrastinating quite a bit. We’ve gone to multiple psychiatrists and therapists. and we’ve written contracts, we’ve written agreements, I’ve made promises I couldn’t keep because it was such a habit. And that was just not fun for anyone in the family.

The school I was going to helped a lot with that, so that cleared up the school part, but the home part…now I had more time for more naughty things. And that was not smart of me. I’ve always been a very bright kid—it’s just that when I made a bad choice, I tended to stick with the bad choice. Instead of trying to fix it, I just tried to make it like it didn’t happen. Which isn’t good for anyone.

JA. I see how the school helped with that…how did neurofeedback help?

EK. It made me view the world more mathematically, more systematically. Instead of over or under-analyzing things, I would be able to see the situation clearly and react more appropriately than before. Now instead of making bad choices without prior knowledge that they were bad choices, I’m now able to tell if a choice I’m making will affect me badly before I make the choice. I’m able to run scenarios in my head: what would happen if ….

And it helped me with my social life because I tended to tell tall tales quite a bit when I was younger, because I couldn’t connect with other kids because of my learning differences. And because of what had happened in my past, it was hard for me to make friends. But now I can make friends just by being with people and seeing that they’re interested, just by observing.

JA: It sounds like you’re not so stuck in “how this feels to me; how this is affecting me,” but you’re able to walk around it and see it from other people’s points of view.

EK. It’s helped me dodge the pitfalls. It made me more of a team player. I used to be such an individual who did not open up to anybody. I wasn’t able to know myself and others as I am now. Neurofeedback helped me make better choices and see clearly, and it’s just made home life and school life 200 times better. I really would not be able to be in this position, to think clearly and describe my experiences if I had not done neurofeedback. And home life—I’d probably be moved out on my own by now if I wasn’t doing this.

It’s a great feeling after a session. I feel like my senses are heightened without the adrenaline. I’m able to think faster; I can come to a conclusion with problems faster. It’s something that people would have to train themselves to do, instead of getting assistance from a brilliantly-written program.

JA. So it’s like during the process you’re able to imagine the choices you could make, and the consequences of those choices, and select among them…

EK. …which one I think would be better. Exactly. It’s helped me become a people-person, instead of a kid who at his cousin’s birthday party, would sit in the basement playing video games because he didn’t know how to interact with his cousins. I used to be that person. It really put me in a blind spot when family matters were going on, and at that point I didn’t care about family because I could never get along with them.

JA. So you think it was kind of embarrassing to your family members to have you down in the basement playing video games?

EK. Yes—more or less. Video games were originally a big escape for me. It was a place where I could not be judged for how I act around other people, or how people see me physically or emotionally, or how sensitive I could be to other people.

This helped me refine those emotions into true felt feelings.

JA: Do you think that people at school—like the teachers and staff—have noticed?

EK. They have noticed!!

JA: What kind of things do they say?

EK. Well, first of all, my guidance counselor came up to me, because she noticed that a lot of people were gossiping about me. All good things! A lot of my classmates, who I never would have interacted with before. They noticed that, hey—I was more outgoing than before. And they noticed that, hey—this kid’s not a boxed up emo kid. He’s easy to get along with. I started connecting with people. People who are super athletic—I got along with them better. I used to HATE sports. I still hate competitive sports, but I’m able to understand them more, and say, “It’s just something I don’t like.” I’m not going to judge this person because they do that kind of stuff.

I used to be a really judging person. (I’d never say it out loud, but inside I used to judge people based on their actions.) But now I’m able to see that what I was judging them on was very, very biased on my actions, not on theirs.

Grandma: And you’re golfing now.

EK. I’m on our golf team, yeah.

JA. That’s interesting, because golf is competitive, but mostly you’re competing with yourself.

EK. Right.

JA. How long have you been doing neurofeedback—how long has this been going on?

Grandma: It started nine months ago. He did two sessions, and then we went to his cousin’s birthday party. He was upstairs with his cousins, and I was chatting with another adult who’s a special ed teacher (we weren’t talking at all about neurofeedback). Out of the blue she said to me, “I’ve never seen E be so social and appropriate.”

Then it was Christmas break, and his mom told me this was the best school break they’d ever had.

JA. That is so wonderful. With some forms of neurofeedback they talk about needing to do 40-60 sessions, but my experience is often much more like this.

EK. I felt it the first session. I felt a DRASTIC difference.

JA. Can you describe what that feels like?

EK. It’s something that can only be described as a heightened state of adrenaline, but without the stress on your body.

Grandma: You said you were thinking clearer.

EK. Yes. You process so much faster, and so much more efficiently. It’s sort of like clearing the bugs out of a new computer program.

JA. I’ve worked with a couple of people recently—both of them have had brain injuries, and both of them had a reaction at the end of the first session that reminds me of what you’re describing.

The first is a physician, and at the end of her initial session (a year after her injury), she sat up in the chair, looked slowly around the room, and said, “I feel SO alert! I haven’t felt alert like this since the accident.”

And the second woman said, “Everything is more visible, clearer, more THERE.”

Some people who write about neurofeedback describe “the clean windshield effect”: it’s like you’ve been looking through this smeary windshield, and suddenly it’s crystal clear.”

EK. Yes, that’s exactly it.

JA. Your grandma has told me that you have a pretty good idea about when you need to come back?

EK. Oh yes!

JA. How often do you usually do this?

EK. Lately, I haven’t been coming that often. I can still feel the effects from the session ten days ago. It’s been lasting longer and longer as we go. Right now I probably can go three weeks without it, before I start making bad choices again. But the more I do it, the better I feel—it’s sort of like…the addiction you want! It doesn’t have any bad effects. Just a feeling of peace. You sit down, and listen to the amazingly composed music that never gets old.

The overall experience of life has gotten hundreds of times more positive for me. I’m able to help people instead of me needing to be helped. Which feels great.

Grandma: What about anger? Do you feel like there’s a change in your triggers, where you might have become angry?

EK. Overreacting? I know the stopping point now. I really don’t get angry anymore. It’s just something I can’t do anymore. I used to get angry really easily, because if things didn’t go my way, I got really upset about it. But nowadays I just accept it. It’s just so much easier to get through situations that are negative. It’s sort of like you might want to get angry, but you just don’t see the point in it.

JA. I often think there are some people who do some neurofeedback, and then they’re done, but you feel like a person who may want to come back to this again and again throughout your life—it’s going to be more like a maintenance thing. Maybe like insulin for a diabetic.

EK. I wouldn’t say it’s like insulin, because a diabetic needs that on a daily basis. I don’t need it like that. I like it—it makes me feel good, but it lasts for a while. It keeps me at my peak performance with the smallest amount of effort possible.

JA. It feels like your functioning has improved just amazingly, and it will go along for a while, and then it will dip, but you know exactly what that feels like, and you know to get in touch with your grandma.

Grandma: And your mom will say, “You’re not yourself—what’s going on?”

And the proof of the pudding for me is that you come without complaint—no excuses, no “I can’t come.”

I talked with your mom this morning, and asked for her thoughts. She sees two things: you are much less quick to overreact, and it’s easier to reason with you.

EK. I used to be SO selfish! And I still get stubborn if it REALLY matters to me.

JA. But what I love about this is that you’re so self-reflective. There are lots of stubborn people who are three times your age who just don’t see it in themselves, but you are able to see it, name it, say “this is who I am—but I’m better than I used to be.”

Anything else you think I should know?

EK. It’s something you have to commit to. I had that strong reaction the first time—probably because I had so much funk in my head. But you do need to learn to sit still and relax, which is hard when we’re all reaching for our cell phones all the time. It’s nice, though, that you don’t have to interact with anyone—it’s really peaceful.

I’d say that neurofeedback made my quality of life the highest it’s ever been. I would never have been like this if I hadn’t done neurofeedback

If you or someone you know is facing the challenges that autism prevents, we highly encourage you to give neurofeedback with NeurOptimal a try.

Contact us today to set up your first session.