Autismus Medicus
Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback

(According to the principles of S.Othmer)

Feedback

The reactions, shown by the environment regarding a specific behaviour are the foundation of learning process. Reaction to a specific behaviour is called Feedback for behaviour. The effects of Feedback are easy to observe. Imagine the following situation: little Emma smashes her milk bottle onto the kitchen table. Her older brothers react with laughter. Immediately Emma repeats her action and earns again encouraging laughter by her older brothers. You can imagine that her mother will have a difficult time stopping her new behaviour.

Even on the physical level we permanently depend on a Feedback from different areas of our body. For example there is a constant information flow from the muscles to the brain concerning the tonus of the muscles. This keeps our body strait and in balance and it enables us to move.

The known learning concept of Feedback is used in Neuro- or Biofeedback in a therapeutic setting. The social or physical Feedback is in this case replaced through an acoustic or optic Feedback.

Brain function and EEG

The main task of our brain is communication and information processing. This process is fast and transient. Commonly the EEG is used for process observation but it gathers no information about the activity of one nervecelll but only about the activity of neuron groups. The electrodes on the scalp are relatively far away from the action, but also close enough to observe the activity of neuron groups, including approximately 10000 neurons.

Siegfried Othmer compares the situation with the observation of a soccer game from outside of a stadium. You would not be able to see what is going on on the pitch but you would be able to hear the roar of the fans in the moment the ball hits the goal.

The EEG gives us no hint about the information the brain is occupied with in the moment, but it allows us insights in the control- and processing-procedure.

For the functionality of the brain there are 3 components of importance:

  • Overlapping neural networks

A neural network overlaps in terms of his location in relation to other neural networks. This means, that one neuron can be part of multiple neural networks. Therefore it is necessary, that the information which is transferred within the different neural networks differ in distinctive features, otherwise they couldn`t be differentiated from each other.

Just imagine multiple percussion groups all marching over a square, each group beating its own tact without being affected by the other groups.

  • Neural groups
A neural group is defined as a group of neurons, which are interconnected with each other for the fulfilment of a certain task. Neural activity is transient. The brain builds up a neural group for the period of time in which the activity is needed. Therefore neural groups are as fasten resolved as they are build up initially.
  • Communication in between brain regions

In between the various brain regions communication is taking place. It is assumed that it is also frequency dependent coordinated. In comparison to the local communication process it is more bound to be accident sensitive.

All three components of the brain function can be impaired for example in the context of an autism spectrum disorder.

Dysregulation of the brain function in the case of autism

We can find astonishing isolated abilities in many children on the autistic spectrum. But most of them lack the capacity to integrate those scattered skills and to insert the reality into a coherent inner picture. We can only speculate about the perception of autistic children, but many of their behaviours implicate that they seem to have a splintered awareness of their environment (for example some of the children are only able to recognise a person through specific features and not through the general impression).

All this difficulties might be explained through the disturbed functioning of the human brain, how it was explained earlier on in the article. It would make sense to call it an integration deficit or, if you speak in terms of neural activity, a linkage- or rather a conjunctiondeficite. What does this mean? On one hand deficits in the myelinisation of white neuralfibers have a negative impact on the transfer-speed of information. The global communication of our brain regions has to precede with a reliability of 10 to 20 milliseconds, to warrant that the neural network is able to function as a global integrated network. The effects of a communication slowdown may be pictured to oneself through the rail traffic. Using the rail traffic involves the risk to miss a connection train due to a belated train. The European rail-guided transportation system depends on the punctuality of its trains or at least that lateness’s are on a maximum around 2- 3 minutes, otherwise a chain of conjunction deficits is started up, which leads to effects we all probably already experienced at least once.

Another aspect of autistic behaviour indicates a conjunction deficit. It is the unreadiness of the empathy and the emotional reactivity of many children on the autistic spectrum. The personal perception of reality is linked to the emotions of oneself. Aspects or learning contents which are closely connected with a distinctive emotion, are by far easier to memorise. The combination of experience and emotion can only be realised through a highly integrative neural network, of which its deregulation may lead to an autistic behaviour.

Feedback for the neural control loop = Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback training enables the brain to achieve a proper state of mind and to uphold this state for a longer period of time. Usually humans are neither able to sense their neural activity nor are they able to influence it. Therefore we need an adequate external feedback. In the context of a neurofeedback treatment this external feedback is given through optic and or acoustic signals, for example in the form of a computer game or an animation. A computer programme analyses the brainwaves which were recorded by a highly sensitive amplifier and permits for example a car in the computer game to drive faster in case the measured brainwaves meet the determined parameters. Through the offered feedback the self regulation ability of the brain improves. The purposeful placement of the electrodes allows a direct training of specific brain areas. Additionally it is possible to harmonize the cooperation in between different areas. After all neurofeedback changes the pattern of behaviour but instead of working with the behaviour of a client, it aims directly for the brain. During the NFB training, the brain glances into a mirror, which reflects its state of mind and therefore gives it the possibility to correct it according to its needs.

Treating autism with neurofeedback

As explained earlier on, autism is basically a neural regulation disorder. Through neurofeedback we now got to know a procedure, which enables us to directly have an effect on the neural regulation. According to Siegfried Othmer it is possible to improve all the deficits, which are generally, named in conjunction with autism by means of neurofeedback. As mentioned before, it is possible to approach appointed brain areas directly, through a selective and precise placement of the electrodes. Therefor an improvement in the fields of emotional attachment, communication, articulation, sensory perception and motoric can be achieved. Neurofeedback has a direct effect on the key deficit of autism, which is a global communication disorder of the neural network.