Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a brain-based disorder that affects social interaction, communication and some behaviors. Neurofeedback therapy is a form of non-invasive treatment that can help regulate and train the brain to function properly to help children with autism.
How do you explain what autism is?
Dr. John Silva: A very good question. Autism, as much as it can be complex to understand and never mind describe, but autism spectrum disorder as it is commonly referred to as well or ASD, is generally characterized by social interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency for a person to engage in repetitive behaviors. The symptoms and the severity of the symptoms can really vary widely across this whole autism spectrum disorder. It is becoming more prevalent, unfortunately, in our society and it is typically more pronounced in boys than girls. However, there are plenty of girls being affected. It is typically diagnosed during childhood years.
It can be, again, a complex problem that can affect people in different ways, or children in different ways. From, again, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders to lack of attention, hyperactivity. In more severe cases where an autistic child would actually lose the ability to communicate or have language or form language or maintain eye contact and have appropriate social behavior or even behavior in general.
What are some warning signs to look for in someone who might have autism?
Dr. John Silva: Typical warning signs would be social inappropriateness. So, the ability for someone with autism, a child or an adult, to maintain eye contact, to have proper verbal and body language when engaged in conversation. Those are some of the common traits and again, in more severe cases, I mean these children do not maintain eye contact whatsoever when you are trying to talk to them. They’re looking off in a different direction and sometimes, just the act of engaging in conversation with them can be an over stimulation for some of these kids or adults and they will behave outwardly in bad behavior. Those are some of the common warning signs.
Of course, on the more extreme ends is they start having problems with language, being able to speak properly, having difficulty in putting words together. Another common trait is these repetitive behaviors that just keep repeating over and over again, what would be considered an obsessive-compulsive repetitive behavior. These can be physical in nature. They can be verbal in nature and again, there’s such a wide spectrum, as it is called autism spectrum disorder, of the different symptoms or traits.
At what age are people usually diagnosed with autism?
Dr. John Silva: Autism is typically diagnosed in the early childhood years. Most of the patients that we see in our clinic are typically diagnosed, it seems to be, between two to five years old. As the child is developing, the parents will typically start to see these traits or symptoms appearing and of course bring them to their conventional medical doctor or whoever, therapist, to start to make that diagnosis. Typically in the earlier years of life. However, I have had people who have come to us in their teens who just over time just slowly progressed and slipped more into increased symptoms of autism.
What type of treatments or services are available for people with autism?
Dr. John Silva: The typical course of treatment conventionally for autism is things like speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioral therapy. In my clinic we take a bit different approach by getting to what I consider the root source of the condition which is the brain. Autism is a brain-based disorder and we start with what is called a QEEG brain map. We non-invasively can measure brainwave activity to determine and map out where this dysregulation or dysfunction is in the brain. In other words, is the brain of an autistic child or adult operating too high, too low, out of balance, out of synchronization? Once we determine that, we then proceed with a procedure called neurofeedback therapy which uses the same EEG technology but instead of diagnostically, we are using it therapeutically and again, non-invasively, to help provide training to get the brain better regulated and functioning properly.
That is the core of what we use in our practice and neurofeedback therapy has been used routinely for conditions such as autism since the 1960s. In addition to that, brainwave entrainment therapy which uses light and sound to stimulate the brain and help the brain to better regulate itself, is a wonderful adjunct to neurofeedback therapy. Oftentimes we can actually have a patient do that in the convenience of their own home.
Another treatment that is typically used either in a home setting or in a clinical setting, is different types of oxygen therapy. The most commonly used is hyperbaric oxygen therapy where a person would go into a chamber for up to an hour using oxygen to therapeutically address the dysfunction of the brain.
Especially in autism we need to look at and address underlying metabolic issues. What I mean by that is things like toxicity. Is there a toxic burden that this child or adult has accumulated from sometimes from birth? And is there any systemic inflammation, which is this low-grade inflammation in both the brain and the body, that we need to address? And of course, dietary changes. We need to look to see if there is inadequate nutrition that could be driving the symptoms and traits of autism.
Has there been any recent research done to determine the cause of autism and what can be done to prevent it?
Dr. John Silva: There has been quite a bit of research. Most of the research seems to point towards a genetic trait or genetic expression. However, I don’t like to hang my hat on that so much, especially when you see children who, according to their parents, are developing normally up until about the age of two or three and then they seem to take this shift towards the traits and symptoms of autism when they are otherwise developing normally. So that is not genetics. In my opinion, genetics is something that you are born with and you’ll have that trait or that condition the rest of your life.
I like to look at the genetic issue in terms of what is called epigenetics. If you just take the word genetics and put the prefix epi- in front of it. Epigenetics gives us a better explanation of how our genetic expression can be expressed by our external environment both within our body and externally. So things like stressors, physical stressors, chemical or toxicity stressors, inadequate nutrition that can drive the genetic predisposition toward autism and autism symptoms. That is where a big push is being done but again, I like to look at it from the perspective of epigenetics.
What I see most common where the research needs to go and where the cause is, is again, a toxicity or a toxic burden that sometimes can be from birth. Unfortunately, we have learned through research over the last several years that a lot of children are being born with a toxic burden handed down from mom. No fault to mom, she did not know. But these kids are being born with an accumulation of toxins which can definitely affect neurological function in the brain leading to symptoms and the diagnosis of autism. A big thing that I also see in clinic practice is inadequate or poor nutrition that is leading toward poor brain performance or function.
To speak with Dr. John Silva, visit www.drjohnsilva.com or call 772-429-8800 to schedule an appointment.