Description: Neurotherapy(aka Neurofeedback Therapy or Neurofeedback) is intended to teach people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to control their own brain waves. Practitioners place electrodes on a person’s scalp to record the brain waves. The person sees the brain waves while watching a video. Practitioners reinforce desirable changes in the brain waves (i.e., making the brain waves more like those of people without ASD) by continuing the video; they discourage other changes by stopping the video. Neurotherapy usually involves 30-40, 30-minute sessions over a period of about three months.
Research Summary: Small, short-term studies have reported that neurotherapy may improve cognitive flexibility (ability to shift from one kind of task to another) and reduce ASD-related behaviors. However, these studies had important limitations such as non-random assignment to neurotherapy versus a no-treatment group and outcome assessment by evaluators who know whether or not participants had received neurotherapy. The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality concluded that the evidence on neurotherapy is “insufficient” (Weitlauf et al., 2014, p. 93). Another review concluded, “The existing evidence does not support the use of neurofeedback in the treatment of ASD” (Holtmann et al., 2011, p. 986).
Recommendations: Researchers may wish to conduct studies with strong scientific designs to evaluate neurotherapy. Professionals should present neurotherapy as unproven as a treatment for autism spectrum disorder, and should encourage families who are considering this intervention to evaluate its effects carefully.
Selected scientific studies:
Kouijzer, M. E. J., van Schie, H. T., Gerrits, B. J. L., Buitelaar, J. K., & de Moor, J. M. H. (2013). Is EEG-biofeedback an Effective Treatment in Autism Spectrum Disorders? A Randomized Controlled Trial. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 38(1), 17-28. doi:10.1007/s10484-012-9204-3
Systematic reviews of scientific studies:
Holtmann, M., Steiner, S., Hohmann, S., Poustka, L., Banaschewski, T., & Bölte, S. (2011). Neurofeedback in autism spectrum disorders. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 53(11), 986-993.
Weitlauf, A., McPheeters, M., Peters, B., Sathe, N., Travis, R., Aiello, R., . . . Warren, Z. (2014). Therapies for children with autism spectrum disorders – Behavioral interventions update. (Prepared by the Vanderbilt Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-2007-10065-I.) AHRQ Publication No. EHC-2013-09-0038.R1. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality