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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 argue that it can be used for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD), seizures, cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, anxiety, depression, behaviour disorders, addiction and birth trauma.
What is neurofeedback therapy used for?
Neurofeedback is used to help 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 people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) - for example, by improving their social skills, communication, speech and ability to focus, and by reducing 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 hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD) since the 1980s. Since the late 1990s, it has been used with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
What is the idea behind neurofeedback therapy?
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 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.
The idea is that when people can see and watch their thought patterns in this way, they can also learn how to trigger healthier thoughts. These are reflected in more desirable brainwave patterns.
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can have different brainwave patterns from typically developing children.
Supporters of neurofeedback say it can help children with ASD to develop new and healthy brainwave patterns, which can help improve speech, behaviour and other characteristics of ASD.
What does neurofeedback therapy involve?
One or more sensors are placed on the 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 his 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 three or more sessions a week with fewer sessions over time.
The number of sessions people need varies. One person might need 15 sessions, and another might need 40 or more.
The costs of neurofeedback vary depending on the number of sessions. You might be able to get Medicare or private health rebates to help with costs.
Does neurofeedback therapy work?
More high-quality research is needed to determine whether neurofeedback works for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Some research suggests that positive results in treating ASD might be because neurofeedback improves ADHD symptoms - which many people with ASD have - rather than ASD symptoms. But high-quality research is also needed to determine whether neurofeedback is effective for people with ADHD.
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.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is having neurofeedback therapy, your only involvement is taking your child to sessions.
Where can you find a practitioner?
The Biofeedback Certification International Alliance and EEG Education and Research Inc. have searchable lists of certified practitioners.
If you're interested in neurofeedback for your child, you could speak with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child's options.