When my wife and I started to make a plan about how we would get some help with my autism, most therapists in my area we found only worked with children. We did, however find one neurofeedback therapist in a counseling practice who was willing to work with adults. I saw both adolescents and adults walk out of her office while I was waiting, and this gave me a little comfort that I was in the right place — and meeting with the right therapist.
We worked together for about 2 years. During the time I saw her, the office of the counseling practice moved its office a lot closer to my work, which made office visits even easier. This practice offered lunch time meditation one day a week, and I was able to join them several times.
Her initial brain scan information matched my diagnosis. This was the first “internal” data that we had that lined up with what the original psychological tests had indicated.
But the majority of my visits were neurofeedback sessions. I would arrive, we would talk about any challenges I was having, and then she would begin the process of pasting the sensor leads to my head to feed my brain waves into the computer system. I had done this as a child with an EEG at one point, so having it done in my 50s was no big deal.
The main program at the beginning of the sessions was a game. On the computer screen, I had to “direct” a cartoon deep-sea diver into diving or swimming up, gaining or losing points…all through relaxed thought. At first, it was hard to get the diver to respond, but I got better with practice.
While I stayed connected, the therapist would then play some 5 to 7-minute videos, and the movies would stop and start based on my brain waves and connecting. This was frustrating; like having a poor phone connection. But it gave me more evidence that I was non-neurotypical. After months of bi-weekly visits, when I finally could follow the action in the movie – sometimes a Tom and Jerry cartoon, or a nature documentary – without too many stops and starts, I began to feel better about the process.
This therapist also spent a lot of time giving me feedback about my brain waves, and she was very helpful in recommending therapies or products that I could use at home. She was willing to do traditional talk therapy, too. She also found an audio file in mp3 format that I was able to purchase, download, and listen to while sleeping. That was a great help to me! Between the encouragement, the neurofeedback, the counseling, and the extra research and advice, I got a lot out of my time with this therapist.
My wife had found her, and she also found the next therapist – an RN with a much more advanced neurofeedback system. We worked on my goals for the sessions, and she shared many “hacks” on active listening with me. This neurotherapist was the one who introduced Polyvagal Theory to me – discussed in my previous blog post: You’re Plucking My Main Nerve. The movies were much more enjoyable this time around, because there was not any “static,” or stops and starts during the playback, like the previous system had. Instead, all I had to do was watch the movie and focus on calm breathing. Occasionally, the screen would change sizes, and she told me this was in response to the way my brain was processing at the moment.
One of the premiums of this system: I could watch anything on DVD. She had a lot of popular movies – I remember first seeing The Martian with Matt Damon this way. It almost seemed too comfortable. After each 1-hour session, she encouraged me to take a few minutes before driving away, and then to walk for 10-15 minutes about 4 hours later to “lock in” the new neurological connections.
I did about 20 sessions with this second therapist. I felt calmer and somewhat satisfied that I was doing something good for my mental health. Even when I finished the course of treatment we set up, I thought all the training and ideas that we discussed outside of the “hooked up” time were valuable. I still think about, and sometimes use, tools and hacks that she gave me.
The true blessing of all this neurotherapy was the encouragement that my brain was malleable. Neuroplasticity was real. Would it “heal” my autism? We quickly learned this was not a goal. Would it help me improve my thinking, my anxiety, my executive function? Yes, it would. I notice a difference. And there is the hope that all of the other therapies will help me be more effective and enjoy my life more. I think neurofeedback could help anyone in their efforts to get more out of their brain. I think I am operating in a higher gear and am a little more capable of making the right shifts when needed!