The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons on the autism spectrum disorder. We envision a society where Filipinos on the spectrum become the best of their potentials -- self-reliant, independent, productive, socially-accepted citizens of an Autism-OK Philippines.

21 June 2018

The Neurofeedback approach

Ryan* is a 10 year old boy in the autism spectrum. As is typical of his condition, he is unable to express himself verbally, shuns social play and displays impulsivity and hyperactivity. His mom enrolled him in Neurofeedback to augment his therapy and after numerous sessions, his speech is more intelligible and output has increased, even initiating conversation at times. He looks forward to parties and playtime with other kids and his tantrums have lessened. His mother shares, “He is more focused, relaxed and happy, able to control himself when he is upset.”

Largely neglected nowadays is the fact that autism, ADHD and many other behavioral conditions is connected to the brain. Though its exact origins are still a mystery, research has shown that structure (bigger brains due to overgrowth) and connectivity (degree of communication between the different regions) of a brain with autism is different from a typically-developing one. Moreover, such conditions are not only features of chemical imbalances, as is more popularly known, but dysregulation of brain wave activity as well. Brain waves (namely beta, alpha, theta and delta) are electrical frequencies that code our mental, emotional and behavioral states. If these fire too fast or too slow, our ability to focus, to relax, to speak, to control impulses, among others, becomes suboptimal. Thanks to developments in neurotechnology, the brain can now actively balance itself—through Neurofeedback.
The image shows PWA Ryan having a Neurofeedback Session with a teacher educating him.
Neurofeedback Session

Neurofeedback trains the brain to self-regulate by providing real-time information of its brain wave activity. It starts with a Brain Map to determine if functional centers, responsible for a certain skill set such as attention, speech, mood, memory, etcetera, are overactive or underactive. These imbalanced sites are then targeted for training. In a session, sensors are attached to the scalp to measure and pick up (no electricity or radiation is emitted!) brain wave activity that is converted into images and sounds. The brain therefore uses these sensory cues to regulate itself and is positively reinforced through visual and auditory rewards.

One can think of Neurofeedback as brain wave exercise. The specific skill centers in the brain are put on a fitness regimen and regular, weekly training sessions result in structural and functional changes. After all, the brain is plastic! Neurofeedback is benched on the core principle of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change physically and functionally in response to learning. With Neurofeedback, the brain learns to produce healthier patterns that will make the brain work more efficiently. By strengthening the brain’s speech center, the child increases his verbal output. By regulating his attention center, he learns to focus more and be less hyperactive.

Conventional modalities such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, ABA, among others, are still necessary and indispensable. Gut health too is exceedingly crucial as research in the last decade has proven the digestive microbiota’s role in controlling mood and behavior. If however the child has tried everything with minimal results, then there is a huge chance that his brain is not functioning optimally. One must take a neural approach. Adding Neurofeedback to the therapeutic picture boosts the child’s progress because it provides a direct route to the brain in a safe, painless and non-invasive way. This restoration of the brain’s balance and flexibility optimizes one’s skills and enables a better quality of life.

*Not his real name. The Autism Society Philippines does not endorse specific interventions -- medical, pharmacological, therapeutic or nutritional. We feel that informed decisions on the holistic health of individuals with autism -- well-suited to their unique situation -- should be made by individual with autism and his family. Our responsibility is to make information available to our membership.

About the contributor. Dr. Cheryl Ramirez is the Clinical Director of Mindworks Center for Mind Health, located at Unit 311 Narra Building, 2276 Chino Roces Ave. Extension, Makati City. Contact numbers are +63 2 553-5943 or +63 916 735-5014.


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