People with Asperger’s Syndrome have many gifts: high intelligence, a capacity to focus on many details and a high work ethic among them. They can offer unique insights and perspective. However, many parents of children identified as having Asperger’s Syndrome and some adults with AS are interested in working on some challenges associated with Aspergers, such as executive functioning, anxiety, social relatedness and pragmatics. Neurobiofeedback is a possibility most haven’t heard about.
Neurobiofeedback is safe and non-invasive, approved by the American Pediatric Association as a treatment for ADHD. Most of us are familiar with biofeedback these days; your Fitbit will tell you your heart rate as you’re working out and you can adjust your workout depending on what you want. Neurobiofeedback is based on training brainwaves to work together. You would watch a movie or play a videogame. While watching your movie, an EEG (sensors on your head) monitors how fast or slow your brainwaves are firing and subconsciously teaches your brain to fire at more optimal speeds. The movie you’re watching only plays or you only have control of the game when your brainwaves are functioning within an optimal range. When your brainwaves fire at a rate that’s too slow, too often or too fast, the action will pause — providing immediate feedback to your brain that something is out of balance. Your brain seeks patterns, so it learns the balance in the pattern being “taught” and it’s reinforced by the positive outcome of the movie playing or the videogame firing away.
In addition to its use for ADHD, neurobiofeedback has been found to be helpful for adults in studies of anxiety, depression, migraine and LD. It just doesn’t get the publicity (or research funding) of pharmaceutical agents. It’s thought to make actual structural changes to the brain at the cellular level, so that improvements can be long lasting.
One study explored the effects of neurobiofeedback on executive function in children with Aspergers. This study involved only a small number of subjects, but it is interesting. The study looked at attention control, cognitive flexibility, planning, language use (both oral language and pragmatics) and found significant improvement.
In another study, children underwent neurobiofeedback and improved in recognizing and showing facial expressions, which is significant for social functioning. Evaluations based on parent ratings showed improvements in social responsiveness and adaptive behavior.
These results are promising but more research needs to be done. The studies are small and have limitations. However, this is a good start. The positive impact on attention, executive functioning and emotional control has been demonstrated conclusively for ADHD; research on the use of neurobiofeedback with people with ASD is continuing. These studies are an exciting line of research on a new and promising way to strengthen attention, improve executive functions and gain better emotional control without pharmaceutical intervention.
Fridrich, E., Sivanathan, A., Lim, T, Suttle, N., Louchart, S., Pillen, S, Pineda, J. (2015). An Effective Neurofeedback Intervention to Improve Social Interactions in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder J Autism Developmental Development, 45:4084-4100 DOI 10.1007/10803-015-2523-5
Thompson, L., Thompson, M, Reid, A (2010). Neurofeedback Outcomes in Clients With Asperger’s Syndrome Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback 35:1:63-81