DR. LISE DELONG is a Neuroptimal trainer based in Walnut Creek, California who has done ground-breaking research with autism and neurofeedback. As Founder and Director of Cognitive Connections, she uses neurofeedback as a primary tool to help children struggling with ADD, ADHD, autism, Central Processing Disorder and other challenging neurological disorders. NeurOptimal Neurofeedback sat down with Dr. DeLong recently to discuss the recent unsettling CDC study that noted a significant increase of children diagnosed with autism in the United States. We wondered if brain training with neurofeedback could have a positive impact on this growing segment of our population.
NEUROPTIMAL NEUROFEEDBACK: A new CDC study made headlines because it found that 1 in 68 children in US could be identified as “on” the autistic spectrum. Does this finding change anything? Does this finding make neurofeedback more important? Why?
DR. LISE DELONG: It most definitely does, it changes the urgency with which we find new and appropriate methods for detection and for remediation. It changes the urgency for education and technology to change to accommodate these individuals.
There are very few techniques that have had the same overall consistent and therefore predictable outcomes as neurofeedback. Neurofeedback brain traininghas the end effect of calming the central nervous system so any condition is more predictably addressed. And in the area of autism, for these individuals to access specific areas of the brain for cognition they must be relaxed and calm, otherwise the higher function domains, such as language, reasoning and deduction are not accessible.
NN: Do you think this news will help people to better understand autism or does it just create more fear about it?
LD: I am positive there is fear around these stats…I am fearful! As these numbers increase we as a society are basically losing our children and grandchildren to a condition that seems as if it could be preventable. Something we are doing or have done is affecting our children’s brains, whether it is vaccines, environmental chemicals, a gene of prevalence or intolerance of nutrition and gut flora. These are scary numbers and people should be scared into doing more about finding a cure. In the past we have been afraid for Polio or Tuberculosis but we searched until we found a cure. Until there is a hard fast way of reducing Autism, then we should all have some honest productive fear.
NN: Do you think of the number of children with autism really is increasing or is this just that doctors are more knowledgable and are diagnosing it more?
LD: In my opinion, there are several factors at play, we have more professionals diagnosing the condition and their criteria isn’t always the same, Physicians, neuropsychologists, school psychologists, and even speech and language therapists. Secondly, the ‘spectrum’ of issues to have the diagnosis has become broader, including mildly affected that may or may not have been included in the past. But Ido believe we have more children with this condition.
NN: What would you personally like to change re: people’s perceptions about autism?
LD: I saw a family in the airport the other day and this family was struggling with their autistic son that was obviously on ‘over-load’ throwing a fit and the parents were pretty distraught, embarrassed and exhausted. I felt so hopeless when another family walking past said something under their breath but loud enough for all to hear… ‘if they would only discipline their children then they wouldn’t act like this in public’. I hurt so much for this family and offered to help, as I tried to explain how other families ‘just don’t get it’. I have seen mothers of autistic children cry and say that with NeurOptimal, they no longer have to lock their child in their rooms at night for fear they will start a fire or play with knives’ because they are now sleeping instead. I would love for the general population to literally live a 24 hr day in the shoes of a parent that gets NO relief, NO understanding and NO financial or emotional support for living 24/7 with an Autistic individual.
NN: What is the most important thing for people to understand about autism?
LD: I think from my standpoint as a Developmental NeuroCognitive Specialist, the biggest thing that I believe would make a difference in the general public’s perception and in the way the Autistic individual would understand and learn is their ‘speed processing skills’ are delayed significantly. So in most cases, talking slower, enunciating and keeping things as visual as possible is going to be highly important. This plays out when following rules, changing plans for the day, understanding what their role or responsibilities are in school or work. When a person cannot understand the rules or what is expected of them, it may look as defiance when in actuality many of these children don’t know what they did wrong after being punished.
NN: How important is early intervention for mitigating the severely autistic children?
LD: From my perspective early stimulation is always important for any child. I do believe the sooner we can help a child with Autism with language based programming, whether that is through ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) or any other program that stimulates language, the better that child will learn in a more conventional method. The nice part about early intervention is the professional typically finds the most appropriate method for that child and the methods of learning are usually different for everyone.
NN: What about children who are extremely high functioning and aren’t diagnosed until the age of 6 or later? Can neurofeedback help them?
LD: I believe Neurofeedback helps everyone, child, adult, elderly…even animals. Neurofeedback is meant to help the individual regain easier access to different brain activities and states, e.g. be able to fluidly relax or focus appropriately.
As this occurs, sleep gets better and learning/comprehending also increases. Also from my perspective, the individual gains overall improvement with all other therapies working from this balanced brain state. However, not ALL cognitive skills are being individually addressed with Neurofeedback. Therefore, I create ways to reteach those areas that are not naturally regained after being physically relaxed and mentally focused. These domains of learning may be somewhat ‘subtle’ which is why some children are not diagnosed until they are older.
NN: You’ve studied how neurofeedback helped to improve language skills in severely autistic kids. How do you think neurofeedback can help language skills in autistic children who are high functioning?
LD: Language is comprised of two broad areas ‘Expressive’ & ‘Receptive’ these two areas break down into the Content of Language, the Form and the Use of language. Those have subcomponents such as Semantics (the meanings of words), Phonology (the sounds in words), Morphology (the structure of words), Syntax (the structure of sentences) and Pragmatics (the use and purpose of language). Language is a complex form of communication that has effects on the individual whether they are listening, speaking, reading or writing. So when we have a severely Autistic individual and we say we are teaching them language is generally the Expressive and Receptive, meaning can they talk and do they understand what is being said. When we are working with a child with a higher capacity for understanding, then we are working with skills that are more subtle, such as the nuances of language, idioms, dual meaning words, correct sentence formation etc…
NN: What are some positive attributes of autistic brain function? What can the rest of us learn from the autistic brain?
LD: The brain is very complex and it makes no difference what the condition is, we all have areas of the brain that supersedes other areas. It has been found that babies create neurons at an alarming fast rate 250,000 per minute but with autism they have been known to have 67% more neurons in the prefrontal cortex than their neuro-typical peer. This appears in a study published November 2011 in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, by a researcher named Eric Courchesne. Typical children natural go through a ‘pruning’ effect with the Neurons only keeping the ones they are using that form neuronal connections, but with Autism they do not eliminate these at the same rate, therefore they are not making neuronal connections. It is hypothesized that the number of neurons in specific areas of the brain may help create ‘exceedingly’ talented musicians, or mathematicians, however, that same individual may not be able to follow a simple direction, or speak. I have known many individuals with Autism that have loads of positive attributes and some people that have no ‘disability’ that are just mean.
NN: What’s the most important thing you can recommend to a parent with an autistic child?
LD: Don’t lose sight that they are children, and they are your children. The world offers a lot of different programs and techniques, know that they don’t all work for everyone and sometimes they work in conjunction with other programs. Keep laughing it keeps the family unit stronger. Stay strong as the community is starting to learn more about the condition they will also gain insight, tolerance and hopefully patience into your lives. As a village of people most of us couldn’t do what you do in a day and please know many people are aware of your hardships and commend you for your internal energy and mental strength.