“In many ways, autism is the condition that most epitomizes a dysregulation disorder. Varying toxic loads affect different regulatory mechanisms in the brain differently. Children with autism may share any of a number of symptoms, but there is no disorder in the DSM-IV that has such an array of differences. Even in identical twins with autism, it is not unusual for them to have different behaviors and neurological deficits. Both have toxic burdens, but the toxic substances may differ and their tissue uptake in the brain may differ.
Children in the autistic spectrum are more likely to have certain other dysregulation disorders, such as seizures. Seizure is the first disorder that the developer of neurofeedback, Dr. Barry Sterman, treated. He started treating the brain’s regulatory centers with neurofeedback more than forty years ago, and his work has been replicated over and over with the same high level of success.
Risk factors for a child developing autism include problems surrounding labor and delivery, such as a breech position or a pre-term delivery. These problems also increase the risk of other dys-regulation disorders, including ADHD and learning disability.
The disruptions present in the brains of autistic children are in the regulatory centers. Neuropsychologist Dr. Rob Coben has studied the brainwave activity of autistic children extensively. Dr. Coben’s research findings reveal that the brains of children with autism have areas that have too much electrical connectivity and other areas that are too loosely connected. Too much leads to decreased resilience and reduced ability to reorganize itself, and too little decreases the communication necessary to organize by reducing the numbers and intricacies of the interfaces.
What is important about Dr. Coben’s work is that it does not only identify how the brains of autistic children differ from other children’s, it also helps us form strategies for how to improve their brains.
After treatment, some of our patients have told us that the experience of their condition was one of bewildering, unbearable over-stimulation. In many children, this no doubt what produces the avoidance of touch, unresponsiveness, irrational fears or inability to exhibit fear, or the need for sameness and marked difficulty with any changes. In such a state of overwhelming and intolerable stimulation, the behaviors these children exhibit make perfect sense.
Some children are able to focus intensively on a single thing to help reduce stimulation. This likely is a reason some children will spin or rock for long periods of time. Parents and clinicians call this type of repetitive behavior “stimming”, for self-stimulation, but the repetitive behaviors may be more for overall stimulation reduction.
This ability to focus to the exclusion of all else may be productive and can result in remarkable degrees of knowledge or skills in the area or subject of focus. It appears that when parts of the brain are not functioning, other areas are more likely to develop beyond usual limits. Children with such skills may be highly artistic or musically or mathematically gifted, or have prodigious memories in a specific subject, such as trains, seashells, or,like Sean, Mars. They tend to do or think about little else aside from their subject of interest. When these children are treated with neurofeedback, the artistic, musical, and mathematically skilled continue to develop their talents while becoming increasingly well rounded in their lives. In the children with a singular interest, the encyclopedic knowledge tends to fade as they develop other interests and make friends.”