ASD and Neurofeedback

ASD and Neurofeedback

Unleashing Potential: Empowering Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders through Neurofeedback Training

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that affects individuals from early childhood, impacting their social interactions, communication abilities, and behavior. While there is no definitive cure for autism, innovative therapeutic approaches have emerged to help alleviate symptoms and enhance the quality of life for children with ASD. Among these approaches, neurofeedback training has shown promise in regulating brain activity and has the potential to unlock hidden potential in children with autism (e.g., Van Hoogdalem et al., 2020).

Neurofeedback training is a non-invasive technique that utilizes real-time feedback to help individuals self-regulate their brain activity. By measuring brainwave patterns, individuals are provided with visual or auditory cues that reflect their brain’s activity levels. Through repeated sessions, they learn to modify their brainwave patterns, leading to improved self-regulation and overall functioning.

The Impact of Neurofeedback Training on Autism:

Improving Social Interaction and Communication Skills:

Neurofeedback training targets the neural networks associated with social cognition and communication abilities. By promoting neural flexibility and connectivity, it can enhance social interaction skills, such as eye contact, emotional recognition, and empathy. Studies have shown that children with autism who undergo neurofeedback training demonstrate improved social engagement and communication skills (e.g., Orndorff-Plunkett et al., 2017).

Managing Behavioral Challenges and Promoting Self-Regulation:

Many children with autism experience behavioral challenges, including impulsivity, hyperactivity, and emotional dysregulation. Neurofeedback training offers a promising avenue for addressing these challenges by targeting the brain regions responsible for self-regulation. By teaching children to modulate their brainwave patterns, neurofeedback training can help reduce impulsivity, improve attention span, and enhance emotional regulation (Mercado, Escobedo, & Tentori, 2021).

Complementary Approach to Existing Therapies:

Neurofeedback training is not intended to replace existing therapeutic interventions for autism but rather complement them. It can be integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan that includes speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral interventions. By addressing brain dysregulation, neurofeedback training can amplify the effectiveness of other therapies and maximize outcomes for children with autism.

Neurofeedback training offers a novel and promising approach to empower children with autism. By harnessing the brain’s remarkable plasticity, it has the potential to unlock hidden potential, enhance social interaction and communication skills, and promote self-regulation. While neurofeedback training is not a standalone solution, it can significantly contribute to comprehensive treatment plans for children with autism. By investing in research, collaboration, and innovation, we can continue to unleash the potential within every child with autism, creating a brighter future for them and their families.

References

Mercado, J., Escobedo, L., & Tentori, M. (2021). A BCI video game using neurofeedback improves the attention of children with autism. Journal on Multimodal User Interfaces, 15, 273-281.

Orndorff-Plunkett, F., Singh, F., Aragón, O. R., & Pineda, J. A. (2017). Assessing the effectiveness of neurofeedback training in the context of clinical and social neuroscience. Brain sciences, 7(8), 95.

Van Hoogdalem, L. E., Feijs, H. M., Bramer, W. M., Ismail, S. Y., & van Dongen, J. D. (2020). The effectiveness of neurofeedback therapy as an alternative treatment for autism spectrum disorders in children. Journal of Psychophysiology, 35(2), 102-115.

Nicolson Siu & AM Team

MsC., MoC. Member of: ACA, BACP

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Executive Functions and Child Development

Executive Functions and Child Development

Why is it so Important for Academic Achievement & Good Health

Executive functions are a set of high-level cognitive processes that allow us to plan, initiate, monitor, and adjust our behaviour in order to achieve our goals. These functions are often referred to as frontal lobe functions because many of the brain regions involved in executive functions are located in the frontal lobes of the brain. The prefrontal cortex, which is located at the front of the frontal lobes, is particularly important for executive functions (Figure 1). It is involved in many aspects of executive functions, including planning, decision-making, working memory, and inhibitory control. Other brain regions, such as the anterior cingulate cortex and the basal ganglia, are also involved in executive functions and are located in or near the frontal lobes (Figure 2). These processes include working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, and planning ability. While important for people of all ages, executive functions are particularly critical for children’s development.

 

Figure 1. Frontal lobe and its components.

 

Figure 2. Basal Ganglia and Anterior Cingulate Cortex.

Why are Executive Functions Important for Children’s Development?

Executive functions play a critical role in children’s development, particularly in their ability to learn, solve problems, and regulate their emotions and behaviour. Here are some of the key reasons why executive functions are so important for children’s development:

  1. Learning and Academic Achievement: Research has shown executive functions are closely linked to academic achievement, particularly in domains such as reading, writing, and math. Children with strong executive functions are better able to focus their attention, process information efficiently, and use cognitive strategies to solve problems. As a result, they are more likely to perform well in school and achieve academic success.
  2. Social and Emotional Development: Executive functions also play a crucial role in children’s social and emotional development. For example, children with strong inhibitory control are better able to regulate their emotions and behaviour, which can help them form positive relationships with others. Similarly, children with strong cognitive flexibility are better able to show empathy, e.g., understand others from their perspectives and adapt to new situations, which it can help them navigate social interactions more effectively.
  3. Health and Well-Being: Executive functions are also linked to children’s physical health and well-being. For example, children with strong attentional control are better able to focus on health-promoting behaviours, such as exercise and healthy eating. Similarly, children with strong inhibitory control are better able to resist unhealthy temptations, such as smoking and drug use.

Given the importance of executive functions for children’s development, it is not surprising that many researchers and educators are interested in finding ways to train and enhance these processes.

How Can Training Benefit Children’s Executive Functions?

Here are some of the ways in which training can benefit children’s executive functions:

  1. Cognitive Training: Cognitive training involves engaging in structured exercises that are designed to enhance specific executive functions, such as working memory or inhibitory control. These exercises may involve tasks such as remembering sequences of numbers or resisting distractions. Research has shown that cognitive training can lead to improvements in executive functions, particularly in children with weaker initial abilities.
  2. Mindfulness Training: Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness training has been shown to improve executive functions in both children and adults. For example, studies have found that children participating in mindfulness training led to improvements in working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility in children.
  3. Play-Based Interventions: Play-based interventions involve engaging children in games and activities that are designed to promote executive functions. These interventions may involve games such as Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light, which require children to inhibit their behaviour and follow instructions. Research has shown that play-based interventions can lead to improvements in executive functions, particularly in younger children.

In conclusion, executive functions are critical for children’s development in a wide range of domains, including academic achievement, social and emotional development, and health and well-being. Given their importance, it is not surprising that many researchers and educators are interested in finding ways to train and enhance these processes. Whether through cognitive training, mindfulness, or play-based interventions, there are many opportunities to promote the development of these critical cognitive processes. By investing in these training opportunities, we can help to ensure that all children have the cognitive skills they need to succeed in life.

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Removing the Mask

Removing the Mask

I arrived at my gym for an appointment with my trainer.  “Are you going to Lan Kwai Fong tonight?” he asked enthusiastically.  As a busy (and middle-aged) professional who’d been up since 5 am and still had several work obligations after this gym session, I figured the probability of hanging out in LKF on a school night was pretty low.  “Why on Earth would I do that?” I asked.  He responded, “Everyone’s going there at midnight to burn all their masks!  Can’t wait to see the bonfire!”.  While the thought of such a sight was pretty attractive after 945 days of mask-wearing, I immediately thought of the toxic fumes that would soon travel through central Hong Kong – fumes we could avoid breathing through a mask.  The irony was not lost on me.

I do not know if the LKF mask-burning event occurred, but the sentiment resonated.  It also prompted me to wonder how the people of Hong Kong would feel as they prepared for this change.  No doubt everyone considered what it meant for them and their loved ones.  And as I’ve been listening to friends and colleagues over the last 48 hours, I’ve come to the view that regardless of whether removing the mask mandate is “good” or ‘bad”,  it allows for personal choice, which empowers us all.

Let’s consider kids, for example.  As of Wednesday, millions of five-to-eight-year-olds will (strangely, after showing a negative RAT test to attend school in the first place) be seeing their teachers’ full faces, perhaps for the first time.  Children three years old or under do not know the world without masks.  It will be interesting to see how they interact with their friends now that they can see their whole faces.  It’s difficult enough as an adult to recognize people when they see them without a mask for the first time.  How we look at people and recognize their faces is different with masks on than with masks off.  Also, these little children have learned to read people’s emotions just by looking at their eyes.  What will it be like for them to see a full facial expression?  How will they interpret what they see? Ongoing research at places like the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London links facial expression to healthy social interactions. Within a social context decoding facial expressions is an essential foundation for stable emotional relationships. It is a skill that helps to reduce anxiety.

And just as kids are not used to seeing their teachers’ full faces, the same is valid for teachers with their students.  One teacher shared a story of playing “guess the child” with her peers:  When the kids took their masks off to eat, the teachers tried to figure out who they were.  It wasn’t easy to recognize them, as the teachers had a mental image of the children’s faces, which was inaccurate.  They almost had to re-learn who Nancy, Tom, Millie, or James were, as they were unrecognizable without the masks.  Imagine the child who bounds up to her teacher with a big “HELLO!” and the teacher isn’t sure who she is.  This experience could result in children losing identity or sense of place, as the teachers they’ve become comfortable with don’t seem to know who they are anymore. How disempowering would that appear to the child that a person who is essential in their lives fails to recognize them?

And what about vulnerable people or those in hospital environments?  Most medical clinics allow their staff to choose whether or not to wear masks at work.  Patients with respiratory illness symptoms are still requested to wear masks. 

The mask mandate may have been removed, but does this mean we should no longer consider the needs of others?  A diverse city of 7.6 million people like ours does not thrive without the goodwill and tolerance of its people.  It’s worth remembering that Hong Kong people commonly wore masks when sick – well before any mandate and well before the rest of the world – out of consideration for others.  Perhaps there’s no need to burn all our masks, and we might instead choose to keep a few around for the greater good. As mentioned earlier, it is a choice, and being able to make choices is positive for our mental health.

Today, I also heard another example of two brothers – the younger one thrilled to see his friends’ faces, and the older one worried about his facial acne.   Female colleagues are talking about needing to spend money on makeup now that their whole faces are “on display” again.  Jokes about teeth whitening products selling like hotcakes and dentists being completely booked out.  For the last three years, the beauty ‘playing field’ was somewhat even, and the eyes were all that mattered.  Now our whole faces are back in the limelight. Face masks eased the anxiety of people with body dysmorphia or those anxious about their appearance. This anxiety will have to be dealt with by many people.

And another friend told me she was thrilled to see the mandate go for the simple reason that she’d be able toread lips again – a helpful skill when seeking assistance at various customer service counters around the city.  It was hard enough before trying to understand what the customer service agent was saying behind the plate glass window with tiny holes and poor quality intercom – add mask-wearing into the equation. This friend has said, “sorry, can you please repeat that?” about 17,000 times over the last three years. These are six words that she’s delighted to remove from her vocabulary.

There are so many stories about the effect of mask-wearing, but that is enough for now. Hong Kong is finally free from HAVING to wear a mask, now is the time for people to appreciate they have choices, and it is up to them what they choose to do.

Perhaps the take-home point is that we in HK must celebrate our adaptability and resilience – we kept masks on for 945 days, the most extended period of mask-wearing in the world.   Now they are no longer mandatory, and we can decide for ourselves.  I can choose to wear it or not, just as I can decide to go to Lan Kwai Fong on a Tuesday at midnight or go home to bed.  Free will and choice are empowering, and as you read this, make a choice for yourself and be empowered in the process of having that choice.

By the Team at AMindset

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

Other Articles by AMindset Counsellors:

The Mental Health Impact of Hong Kong’s Mask-Free Policy on Children, Anoush Davies

Re-entering the Outside World, Kelly Hutchison

Christmas Alone, Elise Phillipson 

Talking About Eating Disorders, Megan Chang