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Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of pervasive developmental disorders impacting communication, social skills, behavioral interests, and daily functioning. With rates rising to as high as 1 in 80 in the Unites States alone, their impact on children, families, and our society is immense. Despite this, treatment for these conditions is poorly understood, and most have limited empirical support. While ASD can be conceptualized as having system-wide effects in the human body, many of the primary symptoms we associate with these children are clearly related to dysfunction of the central nervous system. While certain brain regions have been shown susceptibility, connectivity across regions of the brain appears to be the primary dysfunction leading to symptoms and developmental delays in these children. Any successful treatment should be able to demonstrate the ability to change and improve these primary effects. Neurofeedback is currently being studied as a noninvasive intervention with the potential to do just that. Empirical evidence is emerging, demonstrating this as a potentially effective and safe form of intervention for ASD. There is also preliminary data suggesting that this intervention may facilitate therapeutic enhancements in brain functioning and connectivity and that the results of treatment may endure even after the therapy has ended. Clearly, more research is needed to demonstrate the efficacy of this intervention, mechanisms that underlie these changes, and studies looking at the duration of enduring effects.
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107
M.F. Casanova et al. (eds.), Imaging the Brain in Autism,
DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-6843-1_6, © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
6.1 Introduction
Autistic spectrum disorders are a heterogeneous group of pervasive developmental
disorders including autistic disorder, Rett disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder,
pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specifi ed (PDD-NOS), and
Asperger’s disorder. Children with ASD demonstrate impairment in social interac-
tion, verbal and nonverbal communication, and behaviors or interests (American
Psychiatric Association 2000 ). ASD may be comorbid with sensory integration dif-
culties, mental retardation, or seizure disorders. Children with ASD may have severe
sensitivity to sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. Cognitive defi cits are often associ-
ated with impaired communication skills (National Institute of Mental Health; NIMH,
2006 ). Repetitive stereotyped behaviors, perseveration, and obsessionality, common
in ASD, are associated with executive defi cits. Executive dysfunction in inhibitory
control and set shifting have been attributed to ASD (Schmitz et al. 2006 ). Seizure
disorders may occur in one out of four children with ASD, frequently beginning in
early childhood or adolescence (National Institute of Mental Health; NIMH, 2006 ).
Autistic disorder includes the following triad of symptoms: (1) impaired social
interaction, failure to develop peer relationships, or lack of initiating spontaneous
activities; (2) defi cits in communication including delay in or lack of spoken lan-
guage, inability to initiate or sustain conversation with others, stereotyped repetitive
use of language, or idiosyncratic language; and (3) restricted repetitive and stereo-
typed behavior, interests, infl exible adherence to routines or rituals, and repetitive
motor patterns (e.g., hand or fi nger apping or twisting) (American Psychiatric
Association 2000 ).
Chapter 6
Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders:
Emerging Empirical Evidence
Robert Coben
R. Coben, Ph.D. (*)
Neurorehabilitation and Neuropsychological Services , 1035 Park Blvd., Suite 2B ,
Massapequa Park , NY 11762 , USA
e-mail: drcoben@gmail.com
108
Individuals with Asperger’s disorder frequently have high levels of cognitive
functioning, engage in literal pedantic speech, experience diffi culty comprehending
implied meaning, exhibit problems with fl uid movement, and manifest inappropriate
social interactions. Pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specifi ed (PDD-
NOS) refl ects defi cits in language and social skills, which do not meet the criteria of
other disorders. In contrast, persons with childhood disintegrative disorder and Rett
disorder both have normal periods of early development followed by loss of previ-
ously acquired skills. Common features among all these conditions include com-
munication and social skill defi cits. There is considerable variability in terms of
onset and severity of symptomatology within the autistic spectrum of disorders
(Siegel 1996 ; Attwood 1998 ; Hamilton 2000 ; Sicile-Kira 2004 ; McCandless 2005 ).
Research reviewing the epidemiology of autism (Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention 2009 ) reported between 1 in 80 and 1 in 240 children in the United
States diagnosed with the disorder. A report of just 3 years ago (Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention 2009 ) suggested a prevalence of 1 in 110 and as high as 1 in
70 boys. In their most recent report, the CDC ( 2012 ) suggests that the rate has risen
to 1 in 88. ASDs are fi ve times more likely in boys for which it is seen in 1 out of
54 male children. According to Blaxill ( 2004 ), the rates of ASD were reported to be
<3 per 10,000 children in the 1970s and rose to >30 per 10,000 in the 1990s. This
rise in the rate of ASD constituted a tenfold increase over a 20-year interval in the
United States. With increased prevalence comes a need to design and empirically
validate effective treatments for those impacted by autistic disorders.
Research studies utilizing electroencephalogram (EEG) and single photon emis-
sion computed tomography (SPECT) have provided evidence for a neuropathologi-
cal basis of ASD. A review of numerous EEG studies reported the rate of abnormal
EEGs in autism ranged from 10 % to 83 %, while the mean incidence was 50 %.
Atypical EEGs often predict poor outcomes for intelligence, speech, and educa-
tional achievement (Hughes and John 1999 ). In a more recent review of research,
Rippon et al. ( 2007 ) proposed a model of reduced connectivity between specialized
local neural networks and overconnectivity within isolated neural assemblies in
autism. Disordered connectivity may be associated with an increased ratio of excita-
tion/inhibition in key neural systems. Anomalies in connectivity may be linked to
abnormalities in information integration. In SPECT scans of children with autism,
abnormal regional cerebral blood fl ow in the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior
cingulate gyrus was related to impaired communication and social interaction,
while altered perfusion in the right medial temporal lobe was associated with the
obsessive desire for sameness (Ohnishi et al. 2000 ). Children with autism com-
monly display executive functioning defi cits in planning, cognitive fl exibility, and
inhibition. These executive defi cits are associated with dysfunctional integration of
the frontal lobes with other brain regions and thus also impact upon social, behav-
ioral, and cognitive function (Hill 2004 ).
Functional neuroimaging studies have also linked social cognition dysfunction
and language defi cits in autism to neural substrates (Pelphrey et al. 2004 ; Welchew
et al.
2005 ). During a sentence comprehension test, individuals with autism showed
less functional connectivity between Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas relative to a
R. Coben
109
control group, suggesting a lower degree of information organization and neural
synchronization during language tasks (Just et al. 2004 ). A review of neuroimaging
studies has found key brain structures including the amygdala, superior temporal
sulcus region, and fusiform gyrus to function differently in individuals with autism
than in controls (McAlonan et al. 2005 ).
Parents of children with ASD select many different methods of treatment, with
an average of seven different therapies being utilized (Green, Pituch, Itchon, Choi,
O’Reilly, and Sigafoos, 2006 ) . Speech therapy (70 % of parents) was the most com-
monly selected treatment, followed by psychopharmacological treatment (52 % of
parents). Other treatments included visual schedules (43 %), sensory integration
(38 %), and applied behavior analysis (36 %). Special diets were implemented by
27 % of parents and 43 % utilized vitamin supplements. While there may be some
benefi t to these treatments, many do not lead to long-lasting changes and/or have
risks associated with their implementation. The potential benefi ts and risks of the
major treatments for ASD are summarized below.
6.2 Treatments Often Used for ASDs
Other than neurofeedback, the most common treatments used for these children
include applied behavior analysis (ABA), pharmacotherapy, special diets, vitamin
supplements and enzymes, chelation, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Applied
behavior analysis (ABA), a form of behavior modifi cation, is the method of treat-
ment with the most empirical support for treating ASD. The goal of this therapy is
to improve social interaction, behavior, and communication (Bassett et al. 2000 ).
ABA is fi rmly based on the principles of operant conditioning and measures small
units of behavior to build more complex and adaptive behaviors through reinforce-
ment. Typically, imitation, attention, motivation, and compliance are targeted early
(Couper 2004 ). Effi cacy has been demonstrated across multiple studies with varia-
tions on the technique (Schopler and Reichler 1971 ; Lovaas et al. 1973 ; Ozonoff
and Cathcart 1998 ; Herbert et al. 2002 ; Ben-Itzchak and Zachor 2007 ) with follow-
up studies showing ongoing improvements as a result (McEachin et al. 1993 ).
Unfortunately, not all ABA studies have had such positive outcomes (Anderson,
Avery, DiPietro, Edwards, and Christian, 1987 ) .
In their clinical practice guidelines report, the New York State Department of
Health Early Intervention Program recommended that ABA and other behavioral
interventions be included in the treatment of autism. They specify that intensive
behavioral programs should include a minimum of 20 h of intervention with a thera-
pist per week. Furthermore, the guidelines state that parents should be included in
the intervention and that they be trained in the use of behavioral techniques to pro-
vide additional instruction at home with regular therapist consultation. Although
promising, intensive behavioral programs are costly and require extensive time on
the part of the therapist as well as the family, and debates are ongoing about who
should pay for such services (Couper
2004 ).
6 Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders: Emerging Empirical Evidence
110
Although behavior therapy improves social, cognitive, and language skills, a
year or more of intensive training has been used in most research studies that have
demonstrated improvement. Furthermore, a strong commitment by parents to com-
plete therapeutic programs is necessary to achieve positive outcomes. While behav-
ioral treatment methods show the most empirical support to date, there remains a
need for additional therapies, which may be more easily administered and used in
conjunction with the behavioral methods described. It is important to note that
though research has been promising, there has been great variability between stud-
ies in their results and outcome measures have often been questionable (e.g., IQ
scores, returning to regular classrooms). And this approach appears to be more
effective with those who are higher functioning (i.e., higher IQ), meaning that lower
functioning individuals are often left out, even though they are perhaps in greatest
need of treatment.
Pharmacological interventions have also been utilized to treat individuals with
ASD. A study conducted at the Yale Child Study Center found that 55 % of a group
of 109 individuals with a PDD were taking psychotropic medication, with 29.3 %
taking more than one medication (Martin, Scahill, Klin, and Volkmar 1999 ). The
most common medications were antidepressants (32.1 %), followed by stimulants
(20.2 %) and neuroleptics (16.5 %). The objectives of psychopharmacological treat-
ment for autism include decreasing the core symptoms of autism, decreasing anxi-
ety and overfocus, improving social skills, reducing aggressive self-injurious
behavior, increasing the effects of other interventions, and improving the quality of
life for the child and their family. There is no single medication known to be benefi -
cial to all children with ASD nor that has specifi cally been developed for individuals
with autistic spectrum disorder.
Psychostimulant medications are often used with children who are autistic due to
its success in the treatment of ADHD (Jensen et al. 2007 ). Despite this, stimulant use
in children who are autistic remains controversial and largely unproven in terms of
effi cacy (Research Units on Pediatric Psychopharmacology Autism Network 2005 ).
A newer class of neuroleptic, referred to as atypical antipsychotics, reportedly
improves social interaction and decreases aggression, irritability, agitation, and
hyperactivity (Barnard et al. 2002 ). They have fewer extrapyramidal adverse side
effects than haloperidol and thioridazine. However, most children experience a sub-
stantial weight gain within the fi rst months of treatment (Committee on Children with
Disabilities 2001 ). Risperidone and Abilify are the only drugs approved by the FDA
to treat the symptoms (irritability) of autism. A recent meta-analysis of three random-
ized controlled trials found that the drug was effective in treating the symptoms of
irritability and aggression (Jesner et al. 2007 ). The authors concluded that although
risperidone may be benefi cial, its use must be weighed against its adverse effects,
most notably weight gain, and that long-term follow up is needed prior to determin-
ing its effi cacy in clinical practice. The long-term effects of risperidone are estimated
at 1 year (Zuddas et al. 2000 ) with a relapse rate of 12.5–25 % (Research Units on
Pediatric Psychopharmacology Autism Network 2005 ; Troost et al. 2005 ). Santangelo
and Tsatsanis (
2005 ) reported that there are currently no drugs that produce major
improvement in the core social or pragmatic language defi cits in autism, although
several have limited effects on the behavioral features of the disorder.
R. Coben
111
The use of SSRI agents for the treatment of repetitive, stereotypical, and
perseverative behaviors has also been explored (McDougle et al. 1995 ; Geller et al.
2001 ). Findings from such studies have been mixed at best (Cook et al. 1992 ;
Hollander et al. 2005 ). While some studies report “success,” responders often
include from 49 to 69 % of the samples (McDougle et al. 1996 , 1998 ; DeLong et al.
2002 ; Owley et al. 2005 ). In other studies, the positive response rate is signifi cantly
lower than this (McDougle et al. 2000 ; Couturier and Nicolson 2002 ; Martin et al.
2003 ). Based on the research cited, it appears that the limited benefi ts of psycho-
pharmacology come at the cost of side effects and rebound of aggressive behavior
when medication is discontinued. Furthermore, these drugs appear to be only treat-
ing certain symptoms and typically not the core symptoms of ASD. Many children
require multiple medications to improve their symptoms, and often the benefi ts do
not outweigh the side effects. In addition to patients responding to highly variable
doses, the majority of studies reviewed indicate that not all children with ASD
respond to these various medications, and there is no good explanation for why
some are considered responders and some are not. In summary, the research pub-
lished thus far suggests that some medications may be helpful in managing some of
the behavioral disturbances seen in autism.
Research has suggested that individuals with autism may not properly metabo-
lize the proteins in casein (dairy) and gluten (wheat and related grains) resulting in
an opioid effect on the brain as they enter the bloodstream (Reichelt, 2001 ). Use of
a gluten–casein-free diet has been shown to lead to positive outcomes in some chil-
dren with autism (Knivsberg et al. 2002 ; Cade et al., 1999 ; Reichelt and Knivsberg,
2003 ). However, more recently, Elder et al. ( 2006 ) conducted a rigorous double-
blinded controlled trial of the GFCF diet in autism. Fifteen (12 boys, 3 girls) chil-
dren with ASD between the ages of 2 and 16 were studied over the course of 12
weeks. The researchers reported no signifi cant differences between groups on their
primary measure, the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, while parents reported
improvement in their children. The researchers noted that the children were quite
heterogeneous (which may have masked any group differences) and noted the rela-
tively small sample size. One of the major problems with the GFCF diet is that it
may lead to reduced bone cortical thickness (Hediger et al. 2008 ). Indeed, in this
study, boys between the ages of four and eight who were autistic showed an 18.9 %
deviation in metacarpal bone cortical thickness, which was nearly twice that of boys
on minimally restricted or nonrestricted diets. Furthermore, the GFCF diet may
induce nutritional imbalances by limiting the foods that may be eaten. It has also
been shown to increase the risk of becoming overweight/obese (Mariani et al. 1998 ).
Vitamin supplements and enzymes have been proposed as another treatment for
autistic-related symptoms. One supplement that has generated a great deal of interest
as a treatment for autism is the gastrointestinal hormone secretin. After receiving
much heated attention in the media, a comprehensive review of research studies utiliz-
ing secretin to treat autism was conducted by Esch and Carr ( 2004 ). Seventeen quan-
titative studies were reviewed, encompassing approximately 600 children, ages 2–15,
and 12 adults with ASD. Only one of the studies reviewed found a causal relationship
between secretin administration and amelioration of autistic symptoms across various
treatment variables (type of secretin, dosage potency, frequency), observation
6 Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders: Emerging Empirical Evidence
112
times, and participant characteristics (e.g., GI status, severity of ASD, age, history of
medication use). Twelve of the thirteen placebo-controlled studies reviewed obtained
negative results. Despite the lack of empirical support for secretin, parents of autistic
children continue to seek out secretin treatment from their physicians (Esch and Carr
2004 ). The reviewers attempted to explain this by the media attention that secretin
received early on, coupled with the fact that parents of these children are often desper-
ate to fi nd a treatment for this debilitating condition. In addition to secretin, it has been
suggested that the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may have a positive effect on
the symptoms of autism (Amminger et al. 2007 ). These highly unsaturated fatty acids
are essential for normal brain development and functioning (Wainwright 2002 ), and
some studies have found fatty acid defi ciencies in children who are autistic (Bell et al.
2000 ; Vancassel et al. 2001 ; Bell et al. 2004 ). Amminger and colleagues ( 2007 )
recently completed a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of omega-3 fatty acid
supplementation in children who were autistic. They found that with administration
of 1.5 g/day, the treatment group showed no signifi cant change in hyperactive behav-
iors including disobedience, distractibility, and impulsivity, relative to the control
group. Potential limitations to this study include that it was conducted with only 12
subjects, and preselection of these subjects was based on high irritability scores based
on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (Aman et al. 1985 ).
Anecdotal reports that methyl-B
12 (methylcobalamin) injections may improve the
symptoms of autism have been plentiful; however, there have been very few con-
trolled research studies to support the effi cacy of this treatment. The only published
study found by the authors was an open trial of methyl-B
12 conducted in Japan with 13
children with autism, ranging from 2 to 18 years of age (Nakano et al. 2005 ). Dosages
of 25–30 g/kg/day were administered for between 6 months and 25 months. The
authors found a signifi cant increase in the intelligence and developmental quotients,
as well as improvement on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (Schopler, Reichler,
DeVellis, and Daly, 1980 ). Even after the children were divided into subgroups based
on age and intelligence, these effects did not diminish. This was not a controlled study,
however. In contrast, a preliminary report of a double- blind crossover study presented
at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry conference revealed no
signifi cant benefi ts in the 14 patients in their study after 3 months (Deprey et al. 2006 ).
Specifi cally, there were no differences between the methyl-B
12 injections and the pla-
cebo on the Clinical Global Impression Scale Improvement, Peabody Picture
Vocabulary Test, or Social Communication Questionnaire verbal results.
A controversial theory to explain the increase in incidence of ASDs over the past
30 years is that it is related to environmental factors such as exposure to heavy met-
als (Bradstreet et al. 2003 ), mercury (Hg) in particular. The medical literature indi-
cates that autism and Hg poisoning have numerous similarities in their symptom
profi les, including psychiatric disturbances, speech, language, and hearing diffi cul-
ties, sensory impairment, and cognitive diffi culties (Bernard et al. 2000 ). In autism,
heavy metal toxicity seems to occur from a decreased ability to excrete heavy met-
als (Adams et al. 2009 ). Because of this, some health-care providers are performing
chelation therapy, which utilizes dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) to clear the body
of mercury and other toxic metals.
R. Coben
113
Results of a study by Holmes ( 2001 ) suggest that chelation therapy may be
effective only for young children with autism (under age six), with minimal benefi t
for older children and adolescents (Kirby 2005 ). Recently, Adams et al. ( 2009 )
reported the results of a 2-phase study intended to determine the effi cacy of DMSA/
glutathione in treating children with autism. Overall, there were rated improve-
ments in 3 of every 4 children with 11 % showing a worsening of symptoms.
Chelation therapy is considered by some to be a risky treatment, and there have even
been reports of death following chelation therapy in autism (Sinha et al. 2006 ).
Direct treatment of brain anomalies in autism has also been pursued with the use
of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). Among other brain abnormalities that have
been identifi ed, numerous studies using PET and SPECT have shown cerebral
hypoperfusion in autism (George et al. 1992 ; Mountz et al. 1995 ; Ohnishi et al.
2000 ; Starkstein et al. 2000 ; Zilbovicius et al. 2000 ), leading to the hypothesis that
HBOT may be benefi cial in the treatment of autism (Rossignol and Rossignol
2006 ). HBOT involves the inhalation of 100 % oxygen in a pressurized chamber,
usually above one atmosphere absolute (ATA). It has been shown that HBOT can
lead to improved functioning in various neurological populations that show cerebral
hypoperfusion including stroke (Nighoghossian et al. 1995 ), cerebral palsy
(Montgomery et al. 1999 ), chronically brain injured (Golden et al. 2002 ), and even
a teenage male with fetal alcohol syndrome (Stoller 2005 ). It has been suggested
that the increased oxygen delivered by HBOT could counteract the hypoxia caused
by hypoperfusion and lead to a reduction in symptoms of autism. Preliminary sup-
port for this treatment was reported by Rossignol and Rossignol ( 2006 ). While a
study by Rossignol et al. ( 2007 ) showed empirical support for the possible benefi ts
of HBOT for autistic children, another study (where parents were blinded to the
treatment) by Granpeesheh et al. ( 2010 ) showed no signifi cant benefi ts.
In summary, this review of the autism treatment literature reveals there are no
treatments, except possibly behavior therapy, that have been well validated or that
have exhibited favorable long-term results. In addition, many forms of intervention
include the possibility of adverse effects, require long-term use, or were not devel-
oped specifi cally for autistic spectrum disorders. Neurofeedback represents an alter-
native that may have the potential to decrease symptomatology on a long-term basis
with little risk of harm.
6.3 Neurofeedback for ASD
Neurofeedback is designed to use sophisticated computer technology to train indi-
viduals to improve poorly regulated brain-wave patterns. In EEG biofeedback,
information regarding brain-wave activity is fed to a computer that converts this
information into game-like displays that can be auditory, visual, or both. During a
typical session, EEG electrodes (which measure brain waves) are placed on the
scalp and earlobe(s). Individuals instantly receive feedback about the amplitude
and/or synchronization of their brain waves and learn to improve their brain-wave
6 Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders: Emerging Empirical Evidence
114
functioning. The only way to succeed at the games involved is for children to con-
trol and improve their brain-wave patterns (following an operant-conditioning para-
digm). In research and clinical treatment for children with ADHD, this conditioning
process has resulted in improvements that have persisted for up to 5–10 years or
more (e.g., Lubar 1995 ).
Individuals who participate in EEG biofeedback learn to inhibit brain-wave fre-
quencies that may produce negative symptoms and enhance specifi c frequencies
that produce positive results. Table 6.1 displays the typical EEG brain-wave fre-
quency bands and lists their normal occurrences and respective signifi cance [infor-
mation adapted from resources contained in Demos ( 2005 ) and Thompson and
Thompson ( 2003a , b )]. Within these general frequency bands, there may also be
more detailed breakdowns of EEG activity. For example, mu-rhythm abnormalities
are associated with excesses in the alpha-frequency band and have a characteristic
morphologic and topographic distribution (Coben and Hudspeth 2006 ). Subdivisions
of beta power have also been presented and related to clinical characteristics
(Rangaswamy et al. 2002 ).
Individuals with poorly regulated cortical activity can learn to develop a fl uid
shift in brain waves to meet task demands utilizing neurofeedback. Through the
process of operant conditioning, this treatment modality can result in improvement
of brain-wave patterns as well as behavior. These changes in EEG patterns have
been shown to be associated with regulation of cerebral blood fl ow, metabolism, and
neurotransmitter function (Lubar 1997 ) .
Neurofeedback is a noninvasive treatment with no known signifi cant or lasting
negative side effects that has been shown to enhance neuroregulation and metabolic
function in ASD (Coben and Padolsky 2007 ). Positive neurofeedback treatment
outcomes are often achieved over the course of several months, in contrast to behav-
ior therapy, which often takes a year or more of intensive training. Furthermore, the
therapeutic treatment outcomes of neurofeedback training with individuals with
Table 6.1 EEG frequency bands [adapted from Demos ( 2005 ) and Thompson and Thompson
(
2003a , b )]
Name Frequency Normal occurrence Signifi cance
Delta 0.5–3.5 Hz Deep sleep and infants Sign of signifi cant brain dysfunction,
lethargy/drowsiness, or cognitive
impairment
Theta 4–7.5 Hz Young children, drowsiness,
some aspects of learning
Slowing often related to attention/
cognitive impairments, internal focus
Alpha 8–13 Hz Eyes closed, relaxation,
self-awareness
Excessive alpha during demand states can
be a sign of diffi culties with learning,
emotional stability, relating to the
environment, or others
Beta 13–30 Hz Fast activity associated with
alertness and activity
Excessive beta is often associated with
anxiety, irritability, and poor
integration
Gamma >30 Hz May be associated with
problem solving and
memory consolidation
Unknown
R. Coben
115
ADHD (increased attention, reduced impulsivity, and hyperactivity) have been
reported to be maintained over time and not reverse after treatment is withdrawn as
in drug therapy and diet therapy (Tansey 1993 ; Linden et al. 1996 ; Monastra et al.
2005 ; Lubar, Swartwood, Swartwood, and O’Donnell, 1995 ) .
Over 30 years of research on using neurofeedback to treat ADHD has consis-
tently shown that it leads to improvements in attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity,
and IQ (see Monastra et al. 2005 , for a review and analysis). This success was the
foundation for the emergence of using neurofeedback with ASD.
6.3.1 QEEG Evaluation and Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Quantitative electroencephalographic (QEEG) evaluation or “brain mapping” is an
assessment procedure designed to pinpoint anomalies in brain function (Hammond
2005 ). QEEG analyses measure abnormalities, instabilities, or lack of proper com-
munications pathways (connectivity) necessary for optimal brain functioning.
QEEG maps, collected using 19 electrodes based on the international 10–20 system
(Jasper 1958 ), refl ect quantitative analyses of EEG characteristics of frequency,
amplitude, and coherence during various conditions or tasks. These data can be
statistically compared to an age-matched normative database to reveal a profi le of
abnormalities. Such regions and aspects of dysfunctional neurophysiology may
then be targeted specifi cally through individualized neurofeedback protocols.
QEEG analyses are conducted to assess underlying neurophysiological patterns
related to the symptoms and challenges of children with ASD. In addition, assess-
ment of the raw EEG can be used to evaluate neurological abnormalities such as
seizure disorders, which are common in children with autism. QEEG data are
important for developing the most individualized, specifi c, and successful neuro-
feedback protocols for patients with ASD (Coben and Padolsky 2007 ; Linden 2004 ) .
Coben et al. ( 2013 ) identifi ed fi ve relative power subtypes in individuals with
autism. However, they noted that many types of dysfunction overlap in people with
autism, and most reveal a combination of fi ndings. In over 83 % of the individuals
with autism, connectivity anomalies could be identifi ed when compared to the nor-
mative group. Coben and Myers ( 2008 ) used QEEG multivariate connectivity data
to develop a typology of autism connectivity patterns including (1) patterns of
hyperconnectivity across bilateral frontotemporal regions and between left hemi-
sphere locations and (2) hypoconnectivity involving orbitofrontal, frontal to poste-
rior, right posterior, or left hemisphere sites. A pattern of hypoconnectivity that
underlies a mu-rhythm complex was identifi ed as well.
6.3.2 Neurofeedback: Case Studies, Case Series,
and Group Pilot Studies
There have been numerous case and group pilot studies conducted with clients
diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders. In general, these studies have shown
6 Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders: Emerging Empirical Evidence
116
that neurofeedback improved symptomatology and these improvements were
maintained at follow-up. For a more thorough review of these, please see Coben
et al. ( 2010b ).
6.3.3 Controlled-Group Studies of Neurofeedback for ASD
There have been two approaches to the research done related to neurofeedback and
ASD. Kouijzer and her colleagues have researched the effects of power training and
Coben and his colleagues the effects of coherence training. The fi rst study of
Kouijzer and colleagues ( 2009b ) investigated the effects of neurofeedback in chil-
dren with autism. It included 14 children from 8 to 12 years old with a pervasive
developmental disorder—not otherwise specifi ed (PDD-NOS)—diagnosis.
Excluded were children with an IQ score below 70, children using medication, and
children with a history of severe brain injury or comorbidity such as ADHD or epi-
lepsy. Participants were divided into treatment and wait-list control group according
to the order of applying. During baseline (Time1), all participants were evaluated
using QEEG and a range of executive function tasks, and parents completed behav-
ior questionnaires (CCC and Auti-R). After neurofeedback training (Time2), or a
comparable time interval for the wait-list control group, QEEGs and data on execu-
tive functions and social behavior were re-collected. One year after ending treat-
ment (Time3), follow-up data including QEEGs, executive function tasks, and
behavior questionnaires were collected in the treatment group. Participants in the
treatment group had neurofeedback training twice a week, until 40 sessions were
completed. In each session, participants were rewarded when inhibiting theta power
(4–8 Hz) and increasing low beta power (12–15 Hz) at scalp location C4 according
to a protocol including seven 3 min intervals of neurofeedback training separated by
1 min rest intervals. After 40 sessions of neurofeedback, 70 % of the participants in
the treatment group had effectively decreased theta power and increased low beta
power. Repeated measures MANOVA on the executive functions data collected at
Time1 and Time2 revealed a signifi cant interaction between treatment and control
group, indicating improvement of participants in the treatment group on tasks mea-
suring attention skills, cognitive fl exibility, set shifting, concept generation/inhibi-
tion, and planning. Using repeated measures MANOVA to compare questionnaire
data collected at Time1 and Time2 revealed a signifi cant interaction effect between
treatment and control group, indicating improvement in nonverbal communication
and general communication. Time2 Auti-R questionnaire data evaluating changes
in behavior over the last 6 months showed signifi cant improvement in social interac-
tions, communication skills, and stereotyped and repetitive behavior for the treat-
ment group, but not for the control group.
In a second study by Kouijzer and colleagues ( 2010 ), several methodological
improvements were implemented to better identify the effects of neurofeedback.
A randomized wait-list control group design was used, and the study was conducted
at the schools of the participants ( n = 20). Participants were 8–12 years old and
R. Coben
117
had diagnoses of autism, Asperger’s disorder, or PDD-NOS. Participants in the
treatment group had 40 individual neurofeedback sessions using an individualized
treatment protocol based on an initial QEEG. However, all treatment protocols
included theta inhibition at fronto-central scalp locations. Treatment response was
evaluated by QEEG measures taken during rest and task conditions, a range of exec-
utive function tasks, and social behavior questionnaires fi lled out by parents and
teachers. All data were collected before (Time1) and after treatment (Time2) and at
6 months follow-up (Time3).
Results of the study showed that 60 % of participants decreased theta power
within 40 sessions of neurofeedback. Additionally, repeated measures MANOVA
on QEEG data revealed a signifi cant interaction between treatment and control
group, indicating a decrease in theta power in the treatment group in two out of four
QEEG conditions. Repeated measures MANOVA on Time1 and Time2 executive
function data showed a signifi cant interaction between treatment and control group
for cognitive fl exibility, indicating improvement in cognitive fl exibility in the treat-
ment group compared to the control group. Repeated measures MANOVA showed
a signifi cant interaction effect for social interactions and communication skills,
indicating that parents of participants in the treatment group reported signifi cant
improvement in social interactions and communication skills, whereas less or no
improvement was reported by parents of children in the control group.
Coben and his colleagues began researching the effects of coherence/connectiv-
ity training on autistic symptoms about 6 years ago. Coben and Padolsky ( 2007 )
published a study investigating the effects of neurofeedback treatment for autistic
disorders. The study included 49 children on the autistic spectrum, with 37 partici-
pants receiving QEEG connectivity-guided neurofeedback and 12 participants in a
wait-list control group. Treatment included 20 sessions performed twice per week.
The control group was matched for age, gender, race, handedness, other treatments,
and severity of ASD. According to the parents, there was an 89 % success rate for
neurofeedback and an average of 40 % reduction in core ASD symptomatology.
There were signifi cant improvements on neuropsychological measures of attention,
visual–perceptual skills, language functions, and executive functioning. Importantly,
reduced cerebral hyperconnectivity was associated with positive clinical outcomes,
and in all cases of reported improvement, positive outcomes were supported by
neurophysiological and neuropsychological assessment.
Mu-rhythm abnormalities are a sign of mirror neuron dysfunction, which is
thought to be the case in many children with autism (Oberman et al. 2005 ). In two
studies focused on reducing abnormal mu rhythms in children with autism, Pineda
and Hecht ( 2009 ) found that according to parents, participants showed a small but
signifi cant reduction in symptoms but increased ratings of sensory-cognitive aware-
ness. In another study related to mu rhythms, Coben and Hudspeth ( 2006 ) studied
fourteen children with ASD who were identifi ed as having signifi cantly high levels
of mu activity and a failure to suppress mu during observational activity. They all
received assessment-guided neurofeedback, with a strong focus on aspects of mu
power and connectivity. The participants were nonrandomly assigned to an inter-
hemispheric bipolar training ( n = 7) or a coherence training ( n = 7) group designed to
6 Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders: Emerging Empirical Evidence
118
increase connectivity between central regions and the peripheral frontal cortex. All
patients were given neurobehavioral and neuropsychological testing and QEEG
assessment. Both groups of patients improved signifi cantly on neurobehavioral and
neuropsychological measures. However, only in the coherence training treatment
group was mu activity signifi cantly reduced. Increased coherence was associated
with diminished mu and improved levels of social functioning. Lastly, Coben ( 2007 )
conducted a controlled neurofeedback study focused on intervention for prominent
social skill defi cits based on a facial/emotional processing model. Fifty individuals
with autism were included in these analyses, and all had previously had some neu-
rofeedback training. All patients underwent pre- and post-treatment neuropsycho-
logical, QEEG, and parent rating scale assessments. Twenty-fi ve individuals were
assigned to either an active neurofeedback or a wait-list control group, in a random-
ized fashion. The two groups were matched for age, gender, race, handedness, med-
ication usage, autistic symptom severity, social skill ratings, and visual–perceptual
impairment levels. Neurofeedback training was QEEG connectivity guided and
included coherence training (along with amplitude inhibits) between maximal
sights of hypocoherence over the right posterior hemisphere. The group that received
the coherence training showed signifi cant changes in symptoms of autism, social
skills, and visual–perceptual abilities such that all improved. Regression analyses
showed that changes in visual–perceptual abilities signifi cantly predicted improve-
ments in social skills. EEG analyses were also signifi cant, showing improvements
in connectivity and source localization of theta power related to brain regions (fusi-
form gyrus, superior temporal sulcus) associated with enhanced visual/facial/emo-
tional processing.
In the seven controlled-group studies that have been completed, a total of 214
individuals with autism have been studied and positive results reported in each
study. These fi ndings have included positive changes as evidenced by parental
report, neuropsychological fi ndings, and changes in the EEG (Coben 2007 ). Both
Coben and Padolsky ( 2007 ) and Yucha and Montgomery ( 2008 ) have viewed these
data as demonstrating a level of effi cacy of “possibly effi cacious” based on the stan-
dards put forth by the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback
(AAPB 2006 ) . Added to these initial fi ndings of effi cacy is preliminary evidence
that the effects of neurofeedback on the symptoms of autism are long-lasting (1–2
years) (Coben 2009 ; Kouijzer et al. 2009a ). While these fi ndings are initially
encouraging, there are many limitations that prevent fi rm conclusions to be drawn
from the data collected thus far.
First, these studies have largely included nonrandomized samples. It is possible
that an unknown selection bias exists which could have impacted the fi ndings.
Second, none of these studies have included participants or therapists/experimenters
who were blind to the condition. Knowledge of group placement could have
impacted the fi ndings such that those in treatment (and their parents) would be
prone to report signifi cant changes. Third, there has been no attempt to control for
placebo effects, attention from a caring professional, or expectations of treatment
benefi t. A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study is clearly needed
to further demonstrate effi cacy.
R. Coben
119
In terms of generalization of these fi ndings to the larger population of individuals
who are autistic, very young children and adults have not been well represented in
these group studies. Lastly, there is the question of whether neurofeedback may be
applicable to persons who are lower functioning or who have more severe symp-
toms associated with autism. These populations also should be the focus of future
investigations.
6.3.4 Effi cacy of Connectivity-Guided Neurofeedback
for Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Recently, Coben ( 2009 ) presented on a study of the effects of an entire course of
connectivity-guided neurofeedback treatment on autistic children. This included 110
subjects on the autistic spectrum, with 85 in the experimental and 25 in the control
(wait-list) group. The mean age of these subjects was 9.7 years (range 4–20 years).
Seventy-seven percent of these subjects were not on medication at the time, while
14 % were on one medication, 7 % on two medications, and 1 % on three medications.
The mean IQ of this group was 93 (range 50–130). The mean ATEC score was 50
(range 40–170). There were no signifi cant differences between the experimental and
control groups for age, gender, handedness, race, medications, IQ, or ATEC scores.
The experimental group underwent an average of 74 neurofeedback sessions. They
were assessed using QEEG, neuropsychological testing, and parent rating scales
before treatment and then again after treatment. In order to evaluate the effi cacy of
neurofeedback treatment for reducing ASD symptomatology, the subjects’ scores on
the ATEC and neuropsychological testing were compared before and after treatment.
A univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed that ATEC scores changed sig-
nifi cantly after treatment ( F = 117.213; p < 0.0001; see Fig.
6.1 ). Furthermore, 98.8 %
of parents reported a reduction in ASD symptoms on the ATEC after treatment.
Fig. 6.1 Pre- and post-
treatment ATEC scores
6 Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders: Emerging Empirical Evidence
120
On objective neuropsychological testing, 100 % of subjects demonstrated some
degree of improvement. An ANOVA revealed improvements on tests of visual–
perceptual skills ( F = 53.6; p < 0.0001), language abilities ( F = 31.24; p < 0.0001),
attentional skills ( F = 54.04; p < 0.0001), and executive functioning ( F = 15.65;
p = 0.00015). In fact, visuoperceptual skills improved 43 %, language abilities improved
47 %, attentional skills improved 56 %, and executive functioning improved 48 %.
Once it was determined that the therapy was effi cacious, the next question inves-
tigated was whether it had greater effi cacy depending on level of functioning or
severity of autistic symptoms. We investigated the effects of pretreatment ATEC
and IQ scores on treatment outcome by dividing the groups into quartiles based on
ATEC and IQ scores and reanalyzing the data. There were no signifi cant differences
for any of these analyses. This revealed that (1) ASD symptomatology improved
with treatment regardless of IQ and (2) severity of ASD symptoms did not affect
treatment outcomes. These results suggest that neurofeedback is an effective treat-
ment regardless of the child’s intellectual ability or severity of symptoms, at least
within the parameters of the subjects that were included in this study.
6.3.5 Enduring Effects of Neurofeedback on Children with ASD
Both Kouijzer and Coben, along with their respective colleagues, have studied the
enduring effects of neurofeedback after the treatment period has ended. One year
follow-up data from Kouijzer et al.’s original study demonstrated enduring effects of
neurofeedback treatment (Kouijzer et al. 2009a ). Repeated measures MANOVA on
the executive function task scores at Time2 and Time3 indicated maintenance of
cognitive fl exibility, planning skills, and verbal inhibition, improvement of attention,
and marginally signifi cant improvement of motor inhibition. No signifi cant decreases
in executive function skills were found after 1 year. Repeated measures MANOVA
comparing Time1 and Time3 data confi rmed maintenance of these effects. Analysis
revealed signifi cant increases of all executive functions that improved after neuro-
feedback treatment, i.e., attention skills, cognitive fl exibility, inhibition, and plan-
ning. Figure 6.2 shows Time1, Time2, and Time3 scores of the treatment group on
tests for attention, cognitive fl exibility, inhibition, and planning.
Analysis of behavior questionnaires fi lled out by parents at Time2 and Time3
showed no loss of nonverbal communication and general communication (CCC),
social interactions, communication skills, and stereotyped and repetitive behavior
(Auti-R). Comparing Time1 and Time3 behavior questionnaires (CCC) confi rmed
the positive effect for nonverbal communication, but not for general communica-
tion. Figure 6.3 shows Time1, Time2, and Time3 questionnaire data (CCC) for gen-
eral communication and nonverbal communication of the treatment group.
Detailed information about the results of this study can be found in the original
paper (Kouijzer, de Moor, Gerrits, Buitelaar et al. 2009 ) .
Analysis of the 6-month follow-up data from their second study (Kouijzer, van
Schie, de Moor, Gerrits, and Buitelaar
2009 ) revealed enduring effects of
R. Coben
121
neurofeedback treatment. Repeated measures MANOVA was used to compare the
scores on executive function tasks at Time2 and Time3 and showed no signifi cant
changes, suggesting that participants maintained the same levels of executive func-
tioning for at least 6 months. Repeated measures MANOVA comparing Time1 and
Time3 data confi rmed the previously described effects by revealing a signifi cant
increase of cognitive fl exibility for the treatment group but not for the control group.
Figure 6.4 shows Time1, Time2, and Time3 scores of the treatment and control
group on cognitive fl exibility.
Repeated measures MANOVA comparing the scores on behavioral question-
naires at Time2 and Time3 showed no effects of group or time, indicating mainte-
nance of the effects in social behavior that were reached 6 months earlier. Repeated
measures MANOVA comparing Time1 and Time3 questionnaire data confi rmed
this effect by showing a signifi cant interaction, suggesting decreases in problem
scores on behavior questionnaires for the treatment group, but not for the control
group. Figure 6.5 shows Time1, Time2, and Time3 questionnaire data of social
interactions and communication skills of treatment and control group.
More detailed information about the results of this study can be found in the
original paper (Kouijzer et al. 2009a ).
Both studies discussed above indicate maintenance of the effects in executive
functions and social behavior from 6 months to 1 year after ending neurofeedback
treatment.
A similar study with fi ndings which can be considered complementary to those
of Kouijzer and colleagues was recently conducted by Coben at his New York clinic
(Coben et al.
2010a ). This study assessed 20 patients with ASD in order to investi-
gate long-term clinical effects of neurofeedback in terms of behavioral and
Fig. 6.2 Time1, Time2, and Time3 data of the treatment group on executive function tasks
6 Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders: Emerging Empirical Evidence
122
neuropsychological measures. The subject pool for this study was predominately
male (16 out of 20 individuals) and all Caucasian. The mean age was 9.53 years,
with a range of 5–10 years. Most subjects (80 %) were medication free, with only
one subject taking more than two medications. Handedness was mostly right handed
( n = 16) with one left handed and 3 ambidextrous subjects. Subjects were adminis-
tered parent rating scales, including the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist
(ATEC; Rimland and Edelson
2000 ), the Personality Inventory for Children (PIC-2;
Lachar and Gruber 2001 ), the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function
(BRIEF; Gioia, Isquith, Guy, and Kenworthey, 2000 ), and the Gilliam Asperger’s
Disorder Scale (GADS; Gilliam 2001). Subjects were also administered
Fig. 6.3 Time1, Time2, and Time3 data of the treatment group on social behavior: general com-
munication ( a ) and nonverbal communication ( b )
R. Coben
123
neuropsychological assessments covering domains of attention/executive function-
ing, language, and visuospatial processing. After baseline assessments were col-
lected, all subjects underwent at least 40 sessions of neurofeedback training, with an
average of 64.5 completed sessions among all subjects. Upon completion of ther-
apy, subjects were reevaluated and pre- and post-treatment scores were compared
for signifi cance. After reevaluation, neurofeedback was withheld for between
5 months and 22 months (mean 10.1 months), while no other treatments were
administered. Following this break in treatment, subjects were evaluated once again
in the same fashion as previously described. Their latter scores were then compared
to scores obtained at the end of active neurofeedback training (Time2).
All statistical computations were performed in the statistical package SPSS.
Scores prior to treatment on parent rating scales were compared for signifi cance to
scores obtained after treatment had ended. Analysis of pre- and postscores obtained
from the ATEC revealed signifi cant changes following neurofeedback training.
Likewise, changes in scores on the GADS prior to and following treatment were
found to be signifi cant. Signifi cant changes were also found to be present following
treatment among scores from the BRIEF as well as the PIC-2. Interestingly, when
subjects were reassessed following the 5-month to 22-month period of no neuro-
feedback training, no signifi cant changes were found on any parent rating scale
administered (Fig.
6.6 ). This suggests that changes in parent ratings that were
improved by neurofeedback training remained stable during this follow-up period.
Neuropsychological evaluations encompassing the domains of attention, execu-
tive functioning, language, and visuospatial processing were also analyzed for sig-
nifi cant differences. Signifi cant changes from pre- to post-treatment scores were
found among all three domains assessed: attention/executive functioning, language,
and visuospatial processing. Interestingly, signifi cant therapeutic changes were also
Fig. 6.4 Time1, Time2, and Time3 data of treatment and control group on cognitive fl exibility
6 Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders: Emerging Empirical Evidence
124
found after subjects were reevaluated after a lengthy (5–22 months) absence from
neurofeedback training. These occurred in the areas of attention, language, and
visuospatial processing (Fig. 6.7 ). This would suggest that neurofeedback training
not only led to objective gains in neuropsychological functioning but that these
enhancements in functioning continued to improve over the follow-up period when
no treatment was being received.
The results of this present study were quite interesting. First, our fi ndings add to
the wealth of studies that have shown that from pre- to posttreatment conditions,
Fig. 6.5 Time1, Time2, and Time3 data of treatment and control group on social behavior: social
interactions ( a ) and communication skills ( b )
R. Coben
125
neurofeedback is an effective therapy for treating individuals with autistic spectrum
disorders. Additionally, these results show that this treatment was effective in limit-
ing autistic behavioral defi cits as well as defi cits of a more neuropsychological
nature. Furthermore, as our analysis shows, there were no signifi cant increases in
autistic pathology when subjects were reevaluated after neurofeedback was
Fig. 6.6 Graph showing the clinical improvements among subjects as assessed by the parents rating
scales of ATEC, BRIEF, GADS, and PIC-2 for pretreatment, post-treatment, and follow-up periods
Fig. 6.7 Graph showing the clinical improvements among the domains of attention/executive
functioning, language, and visuospatial processing as assessed by neuropsychological evaluations
at pretreatment, post-treatment, and follow-up periods
6 Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders: Emerging Empirical Evidence
126
withheld. This fi nding supports previously found evidence that neurofeedback is
capable of creating stable changes within autistic subjects that are not likely to rap-
idly degrade when treatment ends (Jarusiewicz 2002 , p. 749; Coben 2007 , p. 740).
Of potentially even greater interest, this study found that during the period in
which subjects were receiving no treatment, positive clinical neuropsychological
gains were still being manifested within the domains of attention, executive func-
tioning, language, and visuospatial processing. Thus, even without continued treat-
ment, subjects apparently were continuing to improve in these realms. An important
implication of this fi nding is that neurofeedback may indeed change the autistic
brain to work in novel and more effi cient ways, and these changes may continue to
progress even after the treatment has ended. This fi nding helps further the claim that
neurofeedback creates specifi c neurophysiological changes within the autistic brain
(Coben et al. 2009 ). This is in stark contrast to other commonly administered treat-
ments for autism. For example, Lovaas et al. ( 1973 , p. 1145) performed a study in
which applied behavioral analysis (ABA) was administered to a group of children
with autism. Upon completion of ABA training, the experimenters reported positive
gains in terms of clinical improvements in behavioral defi cits. Subjects were then
reevaluated between 1 and 4 years later, and subjects who did not continuously
receive ABA training had signifi cantly regressed. As our current fi ndings demon-
strate, there is no evidence of regression among any of our subjects receiving neu-
rofeedback training. In terms of drug therapies, there is no evidence to our knowledge
that would indicate that medications result in enduring clinical gains for subjects
with autism when medication is withheld. In fact, numerous studies indicate that
prolonged medication use has detrimental effects on autistic individuals (Malone
2002 , p. 1149; Anderson et al. 2010 ) .
In terms of the limitations of the current study, the participants consisted of a
selected pool of subjects. Subjects were placed in groups by choice of the experi-
menter rather than by random assignment. When subjects are chosen in that manner,
there may be a degree of selection bias associated. We would also recommend that
this experiment be replicated with more neuropsychological assessments and parent
rating scales included in order to more widely assess the effects of neurofeedback
training. This type of investigation could broaden the present fi ndings and help
determine if there are other correlations or signifi cant predictors we might not have
considered. Also, we would recommend a study with a greater gap between the end
of treatment and reevaluation of subjects. Doing this, we believe, would help to
assess nature and extent of any positive clinical gains found in subjects when they
are no longer receiving treatment, as well as test more fully the limits of enduring
effects of neurofeedback treatment.
6.4 Discussion
There are few interventions with proven effi cacy for children with autism. Behavioral
modifi cation interventions currently have the most empirical support, while phar-
macologic interventions, hyperbaric oxygen, and vitamin supplementation have
R. Coben
127
shown some potential. It is our opinion that neurofeedback is in a similar position
with respect to effi cacy for ASD, but more research is needed. Neurofeedback is an
intervention that may prove to be effi cacious in the treatment of symptoms of
autism. At present, it should be viewed as possibly effi cacious with potential as is
the case with most interventions used with this population. Measuring brain-related
changes that may occur as a result of neurofeedback is one way of demonstrating its
effi cacy and mechanism of action. Additional well-designed, more rigorous studies
and longer follow-up periods should be included in the future to measure the effi -
cacy of neurofeedback in treating children on the autistic spectrum.
In addition, there is growing evidence that neurofeedback is a therapy capable of
creating enduring changes in children with autism. A therapy that can lead to long-
lasting effects for children with developmental disorders (and perhaps continuing
improvement even after the treatment is stopped) is an enormous asset for children
with developmental disorders. Most contemporary treatments require prolonged
and lengthy treatment sessions. For example, ABA training can require up to 40 h a
week over several months to be effective (Howard 2005 , p. 1132 ). Furthermore,
drug therapies usually require years of medication in order to maintain effi cacy. In
addition, some children require incremental increases in dosages over a period of
years for medication use to be clinically viable. Our current results and those of oth-
ers discussed in this chapter indicate that neurofeedback therapy can reach clinical
effi cacy relatively quickly and positive gains can be retained for months after treat-
ment has stopped. Outside of the clinical implications, there are ancillary benefi ts
supporting the use neurofeedback. For example, the fi nancial aspects of this treat-
ment should be considered. Presently, the United States alone spends upward of
$3.2 million for the care and treatment for a single individual with autism, a fi gure
that equates to $35 billion annually (Ganz 2006 ).
Results of the studies reviewed in this chapter also provide evidence for the
safety of neurofeedback. All studies reported no instances of subjects worsening or
showing any side effects while undergoing this treatment over an extended period of
time. Moreover, there was no evidence of negative side effects when neurofeedback
was ceased. In fact, the opposite was found across all studies. This, again, is contra-
dictory to other interventions, most notably drug therapies, which have documented
adverse reactions within this population and often have failed to demonstrate posi-
tive effects on primary symptoms (Kidd 2002 ). Investigations into other contempo-
rary treatments (i.e., diet and chelation therapies) have failed to yield adequate
evidence in regard to their safety or effi cacy (McDougle et al. 2000 ; Doja and
Roberts 2005 ; Elder et al. 2006 ).
We speculate that the enduring effects of neurofeedback in children with devel-
opmental disorders are the result of this treatments’ ability to change the brain in a
therapeutic manner. Recently, Coben and colleagues reported specifi c neurophysi-
ological changes in terms of coherence within and between specifi c neural regions
following neurofeedback treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder
(Coben et al. 2009 ). We would argue that neurofeedback training causes specifi c
neurophysiological changes within the brain, which in turn contribute to the long-
lasting effects of this treatment, and this fosters the continued growth and develop-
ment of cognitive functions. Moreover, we suggest that more research be conducted
6 Neurofeedback for Autistic Disorders: Emerging Empirical Evidence
128
into the precise neural areas clinically affected by neurofeedback in an effort to
more fully understand the effi cacy of neurofeedback for children with developmen-
tal disorders. In summary, results of the studies examined add to the growing wealth
of investigations into the effi cacy of neurofeedback as a treatment for children with
developmental disorders. Moreover, these results have found this treatment to be
effective over an extended period of time. Consistent with these results, we recom-
mend future studies be conducted that assess the enduring effects of neurofeedback
over even longer treatment spans.
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Biography
Robert Coben, Ph.D., received his doctoral degree in 1991 and has been a licensed
psychologist in the state of New York since 1994. He is the director and chief
neuropsychologist of NeuroRehabilitation and Neuropsychological Services. His
post doctoral training in clinical and rehabilitation neuropsychology was done at the
UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California. His experi-
ence in rehabilitation neuropsychology includes directing two separate inpatient
neurorehabilitation programs. He is former director of inpatient and outpatient brain
rehabilitation at Staten Island University Hospital. He is an affi liate of Winthrop
University Hospital and an affi liated researcher of NYU Medical Center.
Dr. Coben is a member in good standing of the American Psychological
Association, International Neuropsychological Society, International Society for
Neurofeedback and Research, and the American Association of Psychophysiology
and Biofeedback. He is an associate editor for the Journal of Neurotherapy and
Frontiers in Child Health and Human Development. He is also an editorial reviewer
for the following journals: Journal of Neurotherapy, Journal of Autism and
Developmental Disorders, Frontiers in Child Health and Human Development,
Clinical Neurophysiology, Neuroimage, and Journal of Psychophysiology. He has
edited special issues of journals on EEG Connectivity and more recently an upcom-
ing issue on Applied Neuroscience, Neuromodulation and Neurofeedback. He has
also edited a book entitled Neurofeedback and Neuromodulation Techniques and
Applications. His research interests include the study of neuropsychology and neu-
rophysiology in the understanding of childhood neurodevelopmental disorders,
especially autism, and treatment applications for the same.
R. Coben
... The rationale for adopting the typical ADHD NFB protocols as an intervention of choice for ASD neurotherapy is based on the assumption that neurofeedback protocols successfully applied for treatment of ADHD may also be efficacious to the treatment of children with autism. The evidence that some of the symptoms of ASD can be improved using this approach has been reported in the literature (Jarusiewicz 2002;Coben and Padolsky 2007;Coben 2008Coben , 2013Kouijzer et al. 2009aKouijzer et al. , b, 2010. A study conducted by Jarusiewicz (2002) investigating the utility of neurofeedback in autistic children supports the proposition that the theta-to-beta neurofeedback training protocol, which is generally applied to ADHD, can also be of use in autism (Kouijzer et al. 2009b). ...
... A study conducted by Jarusiewicz (2002) investigating the utility of neurofeedback in autistic children supports the proposition that the theta-to-beta neurofeedback training protocol, which is generally applied to ADHD, can also be of use in autism (Kouijzer et al. 2009b). However, according to Coben, protocols for ASD need to be selected and developed individually since autism has a wide range of symptoms and variable EEG manifestations (Coben and Padolsky 2007;Coben 2013). Studies by Coben and his associates reported advantages of using qEEG-guided individualized protocols without limitation of treatment for enhancement/suppression of specific rhythms or using the interventions that target only a preselected topography or are restricted to a specific EEG band (Coben and Padolsky 2007;Coben 2013). ...
... However, according to Coben, protocols for ASD need to be selected and developed individually since autism has a wide range of symptoms and variable EEG manifestations (Coben and Padolsky 2007;Coben 2013). Studies by Coben and his associates reported advantages of using qEEG-guided individualized protocols without limitation of treatment for enhancement/suppression of specific rhythms or using the interventions that target only a preselected topography or are restricted to a specific EEG band (Coben and Padolsky 2007;Coben 2013). ...
Chapter
Neurofeedback training is a treatment modality of potential use for improving self-regulation skills in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Multiple studies using neurofeedback to target symptoms of ASD have been reported. These studies differ among themselves in the type of training (e.g., theta-to-beta ratio, coherence, etc.), topography (Cz or Pz), guidance by quantitative EEG (qEEG), and number of sessions (e.g., 20 vs. 30, etc.). In our study, we proposed that prefrontal neurofeedback training would be accompanied by changes in relative power of EEG bands (e.g., 40 Hz-centered gamma band) and ratios of individual bands (e.g., theta-to-beta ratio) and changes in autonomic activity. Outcome measures included EEG, autonomic measures (heart rate, heart rate variability [HRV] indexes, respiration rate, and skin conductance level [SCL]), and behavioral ratings by parents/caregivers. In this pilot feasibility study on 14 children with ASD with comorbid ADHD (~10.28 years SD = 1.93, 3 females), we administered a 24 session-long course of neurofeedback from the AFz site. The protocol used training for wide-band EEG amplitude suppression (“InhibitAll”) with simultaneous upregulation of the index of 40 Hz-centered gamma activity. Quantitative EEG (QEEG) analysis at the prefrontal training site was completed for each session of neurofeedback in order to determine the amplitude of the individual bands (delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma), the ratio of the EEG bands of interest (e.g., theta-to-beta ratio [TBR]), and relative power of 40 Hz-centered gamma across neurofeedback sessions. In this study, we analyzed Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC), Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-2), and Achenbach’s ASEBA ratings by caregivers (pre- and posttreatment). We found a significant reduction in Irritability and Hyperactivity subscales of the ABC, decrease of T-score on SRS-2, and decrease in Attention Deficit scores of the ASEBA posttreatment. Successful neurofeedback sessions were featured by the changes in SCL, decreased HR, increased HRV (reflected in decreased LF/HF ratio of HRV and increased RMSSD of HRV), and decreased respiration rate. Profiles of psychophysiological changes during individual sessions and across the whole course of neurofeedback training showed active engagement of participants during training process, resulting in gradual decrease of anxiety markers across the whole course of experimental intervention using prefrontal neurofeedback training. Future research is needed to assess QEEG changes in other topographies using brain mapping, more prolonged courses, and other outcome measures including clinical behavioral evaluations to judge the clinical utility of prefrontal neurofeedback in children with ASD with co-occurring ADHD. The current series support a need to address various factors affecting outcome of neurofeedback-based intervention, specifically the question of length of treatment.
... The rationale for adopting the typical ADHD NFB protocols as an intervention of choice for ASD neurotherapy is based on the assumption that neurofeedback protocols successfully applied for treatment of ADHD may also be efficacious to the treatment of children with autism. The evidence that some of the symptoms of ASD can be improved using this approach has been reported in the literature (Jarusiewicz 2002;Coben and Padolsky 2007;Coben 2008Coben , 2013Kouijzer et al. 2009aKouijzer et al. , b, 2010. A study conducted by Jarusiewicz (2002) investigating the utility of neurofeedback in autistic children supports the proposition that the theta-to-beta neurofeedback training protocol, which is generally applied to ADHD, can also be of use in autism (Kouijzer et al. 2009b). ...
... A study conducted by Jarusiewicz (2002) investigating the utility of neurofeedback in autistic children supports the proposition that the theta-to-beta neurofeedback training protocol, which is generally applied to ADHD, can also be of use in autism (Kouijzer et al. 2009b). However, according to Coben, protocols for ASD need to be selected and developed individually since autism has a wide range of symptoms and variable EEG manifestations (Coben and Padolsky 2007;Coben 2013). Studies by Coben and his associates reported advantages of using qEEG-guided individualized protocols without limitation of treatment for enhancement/suppression of specific rhythms or using the interventions that target only a preselected topography or are restricted to a specific EEG band (Coben and Padolsky 2007;Coben 2013). ...
... However, according to Coben, protocols for ASD need to be selected and developed individually since autism has a wide range of symptoms and variable EEG manifestations (Coben and Padolsky 2007;Coben 2013). Studies by Coben and his associates reported advantages of using qEEG-guided individualized protocols without limitation of treatment for enhancement/suppression of specific rhythms or using the interventions that target only a preselected topography or are restricted to a specific EEG band (Coben and Padolsky 2007;Coben 2013). ...
Chapter
Neuropathological studies in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suggest the presence of a neuronal migrational disorder that alters the excitatory–inhibitory bias of the cerebral cortex. More specifically, in ASD, there appears to be widespread loss of parvalbumin (PV)-positive interneurons manifested as abnormalities in gamma oscillations (neural network instabilities), epileptogenesis, and impaired cognitive functions. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is one of the first treatment to target this putative core pathological feature of ASD. Studies show that low-frequency TMS over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPC) of individuals with ASD decreases the power of gamma activity while improving both executive function skills related to self-monitoring behaviors as well as the ability to apply corrective actions. Studies from our group have also shown that low-frequency TMS in ASD provides a reduction of stimulus-bound behaviors and diminished sympathetic arousal. Results become more significant with an increasing number of sessions and bear synergism when used along with neurofeedback.
... Several papers reviewed application of neurofeedback for ASD treatment and many of them provide evidence that some of the core symptoms of autism can be improved by using neurofeedback training (Coben, 2013;Jarusiewicz, 2002;Kouijzer et al., 2009Kouijzer et al., , 2013Linden & Gunkelman, 2013;Wang et al., 2016). Most of them used suppression of theta at P R O O F x fronto-central or central sites, enhancement of low beta (13-21 Hz, sometimes 13-18 Hz) sub-band, or enhancement of sensory-motor rhythm (SMR,(12)(13)(14)(15) at the central sites (C3,Cz,C4). ...
... Another line of treatment based on neurofeedback focuses on mu-rhythm training (Pineda et al., 2014). Some protocols use quantitative EEG-guided and coherence measures (Coben, 2013;Linden & Gunkelman, 2013). Our group's approach included neurofeedback training at the prefrontal topography, specifically at the midline prefrontal site. ...
... Several potential approaches for neurofeedback treatment have been examined in the literature with varying evidence, including 1) sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) and theta to beta ratio (TBR) training ( Kouijzer, de Moor, Gerrits, Congedo, van Schie,, 2009a;Kouijzer, de Moor, Gerrits, Buitelaar, & van Schie, 2009b;Kouijzer, van Schie, Gerrits, Buitelaar, & de Moor, 2013;Sichel, Fehmi, & Goldstein, 1995), 2) QEEG guided neurofeedback (Coben, 2013;Coben & Padolsky, 2007;Coben et al., 2014;Linden & Gunkelman, 2013), 3) mirror neuron (mu) activity (Datko, Pineda, & Müller, 2018;Friedrich et al., 2014Friedrich et al., , 2015Pineda et al., 2008Pineda et al., , 2014b, 4) connectivity-guided coherence neurofeedback (Coben & Padolsky, 2007;Coben et al., 2014), and 5) upregulation of gamma activity along with inhibition of high amplitude and low frequency rhythms (Wang, Y. et al., 2016) and the combination of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and neurofeedback to address gamma oscillations . ...
... EEG based neurofeedback therapy has demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of clinical conditions and symptoms including decreasing symptoms related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Arns et al., 2009;Moriyama et al., 2012), seizure disorders (Sterman and Egner, 2006), and learning disabilities (Fernandez et al., 2003;Coben et al., 2015). Additional findings have shown that EEG based neurofeedback can reduce symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (Kouijzer et al., 2009;Coben, 2013). Moreover, a 2016 study found that EEG characteristics associated with autism were reduced using prefrontal neurofeedback treatment (Wang et al., 2016). ...
... Moreover, a 2016 study found that EEG characteristics associated with autism were reduced using prefrontal neurofeedback treatment (Wang et al., 2016). There is also evidence that the effects of these interventions last beyond the initial training period (Gevensleben et al., 2010;Coben, 2013). ...
... Utilizing such a methodology hypothetically may enhance the efficacy of simpler versions of EEG neurofeedback as they are used currently. Single and two channel neurofeedback (EEG) has been shown to lead to significant improvements in functioning across clinical conditions such as ADHD (Arns et al., 2014), learning disabilities (Coben et al., 2015), ASD (Coben, 2013), and traumatic brain injuries (Bennett et al., 2017). Two channel coherence training has previously been implemented with demonstrated efficacy (Thornton, 2000;Walker et al., 2002;Thornton and Carmody, 2005;Walker, 2008;Mottaz et al., 2015). ...
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As the field of neurofeedback and neuromodulation grows, trends toward using neurofeedback to treat problems of brain dysfunction have emerged. While the use of connectivity based fMRI guided neurofeedback has shown itself to be efficacious, the expense related to the treatment calls for a more practical solution. The use of QEEG guided neurofeedback in the treatment has shown promise as an emerging treatment. To date, EEG based neurofeedback approaches have used technology with limited sophistication. We designed a new form of neurofeedback that uses four channels of EEG with a multivariate calculation of coherence metrics. Following a mathematical presentation of this model, we present findings of a multi-site study with clinical subjects with various diagnoses. We compared this form of multivariate coherence neurofeedback to the more standard two channel coherence training. Findings showed that there was a significant difference between the groups with four channel multivariate coherence neurofeedback leading to greater changes in EEG metrics. Compared to two channel coherence training, four channel multivariate coherence neurofeedback led to a greater than 50% change in power and 400% in coherence values per session. The significance of these findings is discussed in relation to complex calculations of effective connectivity and how this might lead to even greater enhancements in neurofeedback efficacy.
... The clinical efficacy of using NFB for ADHD treatments was supported by several meta-analyses of randomized clinical trials recently conducted (Lubar, 2003(Lubar, , 2004Arns et al., 2009;Gevensleben et al., 2009;Sokhadze et al., 2009;Lofthouse et al., 2010). Since many autistic children also show signs of attention-deficit and hyperactivity some attempts have been made to use this technique as a treatment modality for ASD (Linden et al., 1996;Coben and Padolsky, 2007;Coben, 2008Coben, , 2013Kouijzer et al., 2009aKouijzer et al., ,b, 2010Sherlin et al., 2010;Thompson et al., 2010a,b;Linden and Gunkelman, 2013). Several current papers review the use of neurofeedback for ASD treatment and many of them provide evidence that some of the core symptoms of autism can be improved this way (Jarusiewicz, 2002;Coben and Padolsky, 2007;Coben, 2008Coben, , 2013Kouijzer et al., 2009a,b;Sokhadze et al., 2014). ...
... Since many autistic children also show signs of attention-deficit and hyperactivity some attempts have been made to use this technique as a treatment modality for ASD (Linden et al., 1996;Coben and Padolsky, 2007;Coben, 2008Coben, , 2013Kouijzer et al., 2009aKouijzer et al., ,b, 2010Sherlin et al., 2010;Thompson et al., 2010a,b;Linden and Gunkelman, 2013). Several current papers review the use of neurofeedback for ASD treatment and many of them provide evidence that some of the core symptoms of autism can be improved this way (Jarusiewicz, 2002;Coben and Padolsky, 2007;Coben, 2008Coben, , 2013Kouijzer et al., 2009a,b;Sokhadze et al., 2014). During NFB procedure, subjects are trained to enhance desired electro-cortical activity, while suppressing undesirable activity. ...
... There were several case, pilot and group studies (Sichel et al., 1995;Jarusiewicz, 2002) followed by controlled group studies (Coben and Padolsky, 2007;Kouijzer et al., 2009a,b;. More detailed accounts summarizing behavioral, cognitive, and neurophysiological data can be found in current reviews (Thompson et al., 2010a,b;Coben, 2013;Linden and Gunkelman, 2013). Among controlled studies should be specifically mentioned quantitative EEG (qEEG) and connectivity analysis guided studies conducted by Coben and his associate (Coben and Padolsky, 2007;Coben, 2013). ...
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Neurofeedback is a mode of treatment that is potentially useful for improving self-regulation skills in persons with autism spectrum disorder. We proposed that operant conditioning of EEG in neurofeedback mode can be accompanied by changes in the relative power of EEG bands. However, the details on the change of the relative power of EEG bands during neurofeedback training course in autism are not yet well explored. In this study, we analyzed the EEG recordings of children diagnosed with autism and enrolled in a prefrontal neurofeedback treatment course. The protocol used in this training was aimed at increasing the ability to focus attention, and the procedure represented the wide band EEG amplitude suppression training along with upregulation of the relative power of gamma activity. Quantitative EEG analysis was completed for each session of neurofeedback using wavelet transform to determine the relative power of gamma and theta/beta ratio, and further to detect the statistical changes within and between sessions. We found a linear decrease of theta/beta ratio and a liner increase of relative power of gamma activity over 18 weekly sessions of neurofeedback in 18 high functioning children with autism. The study indicates that neurofeedback is an effective method for altering EEG characteristics associated with the autism spectrum disorder. Also, it provides information about specific changes of EEG activities and details the correlation between changes of EEG and neurofeedback indexes during the course of neurofeedback. This pilot study contributes to the development of more effective approaches to EEG data analysis during prefrontal neurofeedback training in autism. Key word: Electroencephalography, Neurofeedback, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Gamma activity, EEG bands’ ratios
... Neurofeedback for treatment of autism spectrum disorder is gaining certain popularity and is reviewed in several current papers (Coben , 2013Thompson et al. 2010). While there are only few published systematic studies of neurofeedback treatment of autism using standard neurofeedback protocols (), several recent reports of NFB for autism based on quantitative EEG (qEEG) findings have been presented (Coben 2013;). ...
... Neurofeedback for treatment of autism spectrum disorder is gaining certain popularity and is reviewed in several current papers (Coben , 2013Thompson et al. 2010). While there are only few published systematic studies of neurofeedback treatment of autism using standard neurofeedback protocols (), several recent reports of NFB for autism based on quantitative EEG (qEEG) findings have been presented (Coben 2013;). This technique involves the use of qEEG to identify patterns of EEG that deviate from standardized norms, and individualized protocols to correct them. ...
Conference Paper
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Background: In a recent experimental treatment trial we reported positive therapeutic effects of low frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We have also found positive effects of electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback (neurofeedback) self-regulation training in behavioral and EEG outcomes in children with ASD. To evaluate the potential benefits of combining these two treatments, we completed a pilot study of rTMS with neurofeedback in a high functioning 13-year-old male with autism and an anxiety disorder. Objectives: To determine if concurrent application of bilateral rTMS over DLPFC and self-regulation of prefrontal EEG activity results in improvements in behavior, performance on selective attention tests, and electrophysiological indices of attention. Methods: The diagnosis of autism in the 13-year-old male was confirmed using DSM-IV criteria and ascertained with the Autism Diagnostic Interview -Revised. Cognitive testing indicated Average intelligence and, based on psychiatric evaluation, he also met criteria for an obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder that was being treated with Zoloft. Behavioral assessments using the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, Social Responsiveness Scale, and Repetitive Behavior Scale - Revised were conducted before and after a 4 week long waiting (no-treatment) period. The patient was also tested using a selective audio-visual attention test (IVA+Plus, Brain Train) and a visual oddball test with event-related potential (ERP) recording. Following pre-treatment evaluation, the patient completed 12 weekly sessions of experimental treatment where 1 Hz rTMS treatment (150 pulses, 90% of motor threshold, 6 left and 6 right DLPFC) was immediately followed by 25 min long prefrontal neurofeedback training. Neurofeedback was aimed at suppression of low frequency (delta, theta) and enhancement of high frequency (beta, gamma) EEG activity using visual and auditory feedback provided by a DVD controlled by EEG measures. Twelve sessions of combined rTMS and NFB were followed by post-treatment behavioral, neurocognitive, and ERP assessments. After 4 weeks the patient was invited for six additional sessions of bilateral DLPFC rTMS and NFB followed by completion of the same behavioral, neurocognitive, and neurophysiological assessment instruments. Long-term effects were determined by a follow-up evaluation three months after conclusion of the 18-session treatment. Results: Experimental treatment using the combination of rTMS and NFB coresponded to improvements in behavior, sustained auditory and visual attention (IVA+Plus), and in enhanced magnitude of ERP measures for target stimulus processing in the visual oddball task. The patient exhibited more pronounced positive changes on several ERP measures of attention than children with ASD undergoing only 12 sessions of rTMS without NFB. Conclusions: This single case experimental study provides support for the combination of rTMS with neurofeedback to treat symptoms of autism presenting with a comorbid anxiety disorder. Further investigation is warranted including combining these approaches with behavioral intervention strategies.
... Neurofeedback for treatment of autism spectrum disorder is gaining certain popularity and is reviewed in several current papers (Coben 2008(Coben , 2013Coben and Padolsky 2007;Kouijer et al. 2009a, b;Linden and Gunkelman 2013;Thompson et al. 2010). While there are only few published systematic studies of neurofeedback treatment of autism using standard neurofeedback protocols (Coben 2008;, several recent reports of NFB for autism based on quantitative EEG (qEEG) findings have been presented (Coben 2013;. ...
... Neurofeedback for treatment of autism spectrum disorder is gaining certain popularity and is reviewed in several current papers (Coben 2008(Coben , 2013Coben and Padolsky 2007;Kouijer et al. 2009a, b;Linden and Gunkelman 2013;Thompson et al. 2010). While there are only few published systematic studies of neurofeedback treatment of autism using standard neurofeedback protocols (Coben 2008;, several recent reports of NFB for autism based on quantitative EEG (qEEG) findings have been presented (Coben 2013;. This technique involves the use of qEEG to identify patterns of EEG that deviate from standardized norms, and individualized protocols to correct them. ...
Article
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by deficits in social interaction, language, stereotyped behaviors, and restricted range of interests. In previous studies low frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has been used, with positive behavioral and electrophysiological results, for the experimental treatment in ASD. In this study we combined prefrontal rTMS sessions with electroencephalographic (EEG) neurofeedback (NFB) to prolong and reinforce TMS-induced EEG changes. The pilot trial recruited 42 children with ASD (~14.5 years). Outcome measures included behavioral evaluations and reaction time test with event-related potential (ERP) recording. For the main goal of this exploratory study we used rTMS-neurofeedback combination (TMS-NFB, N = 20) and waitlist (WTL, N = 22) groups to examine effects of 18 sessions of integrated rTMS-NFB treatment or wait period) on behavioral responses, stimulus and response-locked ERPs, and other functional and clinical outcomes. The underlying hypothesis was that combined TMS-NFB will improve executive functions in autistic patients as compared to the WTL group. Behavioral and ERP outcomes were collected in pre- and post-treatment tests in both groups. Results of the study supported our hypothesis by demonstration of positive effects of combined TMS-NFB neurotherapy in active treatment group as compared to control WTL group, as the TMS-NFB group showed significant improvements in behavioral and functional outcomes as compared to the WTL group.
... NFB treatment is considered one of the successful and salient ways of treatment for attention deficit/hyperactive children (ADHD) (Lofthouse et al. 2010). Given that many children with autism may represent with symptoms and signs of ADHD, studies had attempted to use this new therapy as a treatment multimodality for ASD (Coben 2013;Kouijzer et al. 2010;Linden and Gunkelman 2013). ...
Article
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Background Neurofeedback (NFB) has been conceded as a convenient measure for both identifying and remodeling neural pliability of brain cells; it is a mean through which participants can have voluntary control on their brain waves being expressed on the EEG. Forty-two autistic children received a NFB therapy aiming at improving their cognitive abilities. Results NFB succeeded to decrease children’s high theta/beta ratio by inhibiting theta activity and intensifying beta activity over different sessions. Following therapy, the children’s cognitive functions were found to show comparative improvement compared to pre-treatment assessment on a range of different tasks. Auxiliary improvements were found in their social, thought and attention domains. Conclusion These findings propose a basic cognitive function impairment in autism spectrum disorder that can be reduced through specific NFB treatment.
... Neurofeedback is one method to treat the symptoms of ASD (Coben, 2013). All empirical evidence supporting these approaches will be presented and understood compared to other treatment strategies. ...
Conference Paper
Background: With a life time prevalence estimated at 16%, major depression (MD) is a major public health issue. Previous studies have shown that depression has been associated with a variety of cognitive impairments. In addition to cognitive impairments, major depression is usually accompanied by alterations of cortical activity, especially in prefrontal areas. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of noninvasive brain stimulation as a means of modulating cortical excitability. Recent studies on major depression (MD) have revealed that transcranial direct current stimulation induces cortical excitability which facilitates memory and especially working memory. On the other hand visual aspects of memory in MD have not been yet investigated. Objective: This study aimed to investigate whether anodal and cathodal tDCS applied over dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), would significantly improve visual memory in patients with major depression. Methods: Thirty (N=30) patients with major depression were randomly assigned to receive either experimental(active) or control (sham) tDCS. The participants underwent a series of visual memory tasks before and after 10 sessions of tDCS. The parameters of active tDCS included 2 mA for 20 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days, anode over the left DLPFC (F3), cathode over the right DLPFC (F4) region. Results: After 10 sessions of anodal and cathodal tDCS, patients showed significantly improved performance in visual and spatial aspects of memory tasks. Specifically, anodal stimulation improved visual memory perfo rmance for the experimental group relative to baseline, whereas sham stimulation did not differentiate performance from baseline in the control group. Conclusion: This study showed that anodal tDCS over DLPFC concurrently with cathodal tDCS over right DLPFC improved visual and spatial aspects of memory in patients with MD. This finding is in generally consistent with previous findings about effectiveness of tDCS on cognition in major depression, while additionally provides support for effectiveness of tDCS on visual memory in MD. Keywords: Major depression, memory, tDCS, visual memory
Thesis
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Autism is a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder of multifactorial causation and phenotypical variation. The nature of the disorder together with the difficulty in planning and implementing highly effective treatment models, have directed the scientific research towards discovering and implementing new intervention or/and therapeutic models, of different type and philosophy. Brain – computer interface systems as intervention tools in autism comprise an approach consistent with the demands of the new era. The dissertation aims at examining applied, non-invasive research protocols of this kind, placing emphasis on the way they were implemented and their effectiveness. The review was conducted on published research in the last decade, concerning ages 4-21.
Chapter
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Autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) are a heterogeneous group of pervasive developmental disorders including autistic disorder, Rett’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger’s disorder. Children with ASD demonstrate impairment in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and behaviors or interests (DSM-IV-TR; APA 2000). ASD may be comorbid with sensory integration difficulties, mental retardation, or seizure disorders. Children with ASD may have severe sensitivity to sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. Cognitive deficits are often associated with impaired communication skills (National Institute of Mental Health; NIMH 2006). Repetitive stereotyped behaviors, perseveration, and obsessionality, common in ASD, are associated with executive deficits. Executive dysfunction in inhibitory control and set shifting have been attributed to ASD (Schmitz et al. 2006). Seizure disorders may occur in one out of four children with ASD, frequently beginning in early childhood or adolescence (National Institute of Mental Health; NIMH 2006).
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Recent studies have linked neural coherence deficits with impairments associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The current study tested the hypothesis that lowering neural hyperconnectivity would lead to decreases in autistic symptoms. Subjects underwent connectivity-guided EEG biofeedback, which has been previously found to enhance neuropsychological functioning and to lessen autistic symptoms. Significant reductions in neural coherence across frontotemporal regions and source localized power changes were evident in frontal, temporal, and limbic regions following this treatment. Concurrently, there were significant improvements on objective neuropsychological tests and parents reported positive gains (decreases in symptoms) following the treatment. These findings further validate EEG biofeedback as a therapeutic modality for autistic children and suggest that changes in coherence anomalies may be related to the mechanism of action.