What is neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a way of training the brain. The aim of the training is to promote healthy brainwave patterns.
Who is neurofeedback therapy for?
Supporters of neurofeedback say that it can be used for autistic people and people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), seizures, cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, anxiety, depression, behaviour disorders, addiction and birth trauma.
What is neurofeedback therapy used for?
Supporters say that neurofeedback helps to change unhealthy or undesirable brainwave activity into normal, healthy, organised activity. This can help the brain work better.
Supporters of neurofeedback therapy claim it can help autistic people – for example, by improving their social skills, communication, speech and ability to focus. They say it can also reduce seizures and self-stimulatory behaviour.
Where does neurofeedback therapy come from?
In the 1960s Dr Joseph Kamiya from the University of Chicago successfully trained people to control their brainwaves. Around the same time, Barry Sterman at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found that neurofeedback could help patients with epilepsy.
Neurofeedback has been used to treat people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) since the 1980s. Since the late 1990s, it has been used with autistic children.
What is the idea behind neurofeedback therapy for autistic people?
Brain cells produce electrical pulses that communicate with each other. This produces brainwaves. These brainwaves show how much brain activity is happening when we think, feel and behave in different ways.
Brainwaves change according to how you’re feeling or what you’re doing. For example, your brainwaves are slower when you’re relaxed or sleeping, and they’re faster when you’re alert and concentrating.
In neurofeedback therapy, an electroencephalographic (EEG) machine monitors your brainwave patterns. These patterns show up on a computer screen as lines, graphs or even simple games. You can consciously control your brainwave activity to make the lines or graphs move.
Supporters of neurofeedback say it can help autistic children develop new brainwave patterns. They believe that this can help improve speech, behaviour and other characteristics of autism.
What does neurofeedback therapy involve?
One or more sensors are placed on a person’s scalp and/or ear lobes. These are attached to an EEG machine, which shows the person’s brainwaves on a computer screen as lines, graphs or a simple video game. For example, the game might show a car driving or a ball rising and falling.
The person is asked to make the line, graph or object move with their brain. As desirable brain activity increases, the video game moves faster or the ball rises. Undesirable brain activity slows the ball down.
Gradually, the brain learns new patterns.
Neurofeedback sessions might last 20-60 minutes, usually alternating between training and rest. At first a person might have 3 or more sessions a week, with fewer sessions over time.
The number of sessions people need varies. One person might do 15 sessions, and another might do 40 or more.
Does neurofeedback therapy help autistic children?
There is currently no good-quality evidence that neurofeedback helps autistic children or adults. More high-quality research is needed.
Neurofeedback isn’t recommended as a treatment for speech and language difficulties.
Who practises neurofeedback therapy?
Mental health professionals like psychologists, counsellors and family therapists can do neurofeedback. Look for a certified practitioner.
Where can you find a practitioner?
The Applied Neuroscience Society of Australasia (ANSA) has information about practitioners in Australia.
If you’re interested in neurofeedback for your child, see your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. They can talk with you about its risks and benefits.
You could also talk about neurofeedback with your NDIA planner, early childhood partner or local area coordinator, if you have one.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is having neurofeedback therapy, your only involvement is taking your child to sessions.
The costs of neurofeedback vary depending on the number of sessions.
Medicare doesn’t cover the costs of neurofeedback sessions. But you can contact the NDIS to find out whether you can include the cost of neurofeedback in children’s NDIS plans.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.