The Neurology of Autism & Asperger Syndrome

The quantitative EEG (computerized brain wave analysis) has shown that the limited social interactions, impaired communication, narrow interests and repetitive behaviors of autism and Asperger syndrome are related to multiple areas of brain dysfunction. Neurofeedback and other neurological training techniques can then remediate what is

found, allowing for a much higher quality of life.

The quantitative EEG typically reveals multiple neurological dysfunctions:

Mirror Neuron System—Empathy and Social Skills

Your warm feelings about Aunt Tilly are not something you were born with. Empathy, our ability to understand the emotions and feelings of others, is a process our brain learns from an early age. As a baby, our mom smiled and we smiled back. As adults, when someone yawns, we also yawn.

We learn empathy with our brain’s mirror neuron system. In the EEG, we see the expression of this system as mu rhythms. Mu rhythms are rhythmic oscillations that occur intermittently over the center areas of our brain.

With normal brain functioning, seeing and reaching for an apple, or even thinking about reaching for it or watching someone else pick up it up causes the mu rhythms to inhibit or block. This system is typically defective in those with autism; that is, the mu rhythms don’t inhibit the way they should. This can be thought of as a “gate” staying closed so incoming information cannot be efficiently allocated and processed. The mirroring of the behaviors of others does not occur; thus social engagements and behaviors are not learned.

Right Hemisphere Dysfunction—Miscuing and Misinterpreting Our World

Information coming into the brain system is first processed in the right side of the brain. This initial processing is “fuzzy” and indistinct, with no assigned value or meaning. The information is then rapidly transferred to the left hemisphere, where it is “sharpened up” and we are made aware of what is going on in our world. When the right hemisphere is dysfunctional, the information transferred is distorted, and therefore not a true representation of what is occurring. This dysfunction leads to the inappropriate behaviors and social skills issues.

Frontal Lobe Dysfunction—Understanding, Learning, Focus and Attention

Our frontal lobes make us aware of what is going on in our environment and helps us consciously create and act with a purposeful plan of action. Those with autism and Asperger syndrome tend to show excessive slow waves in the frontal regions, which blunt response control, focus and attention.

Left Hemisphere Dysfunction—Speech Expression and Understanding

If there are language deficits, there is dysfunction of the left hemisphere. Communication is hampered because it is our left hemisphere that is responsible for the understanding and mechanics of language.

Connectivity Issue—Brain Communication and Learning

Our brain talks to itself to understand the complexity of the world and to make and execute decisions on how to best function in it. To carry out a particular task, for example, the brain connects multiple performance centers and then, just as rapidly, releases to connect to other task-specific areas. If this highly dynamic connect/disconnect method is compromised, focus, attention, memory, mood or learning is negatively impacted. Those with autism and Asperger syndrome typically show mixed excessive and deficient connectivity characteristics.

Remediating the Issues

Neurofeedback, rhythmic light-sound therapy and transcranial DC stimulation teach the brain to remediate these dysfunctions. As a result, incoming information can be efficiently processed, the world can be seen as it is, and language and learning can occur.

Dr. Marvin Sams is a board-certified neurotherapist and director of The Sams Center, in Plano. For more info, call 972-612-0160 or visit

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