Some autism therapists have suggested substituting full blown stimming behavior like hand flapping, for less obvious behavior like tapping the fingers on the thighs. This would be more socially acceptable. However, this implies that stimming cannot be eradicated. Yet, normal people can stop stimming behavior at will, once they become self-conscious. In other words, they have cortical brain control over their behavior.
Is this achievable for the autistic child or adult? Can we help the autistic child regulate the brain? Yes, my autistic teenage daughter has done this. She has recovered from very severe verbal stimming.
Back in 2006, people would stare at Vanessa whenever she rode in the MRT trains or public buses. Although she is a very good looking girl by most standards, she would declare rather loudly “I will throw you out! I will throw you out of the bus!” whenever we rode the trains or buses. In fact she would say this all day long, every few minutes. This had been going on almost a year, driving me and my wife nuts. In Vanessa’s case, it was not due to stress. I believe the stimming behavior was an attempt to awaken her brain. She seemed to enjoy doing it. Maybe it was fun for her to see poor dad and mum in distress.
No amount of behavior modification could modulate the behavior. We tried asking her to sing, hum a tune, say it softly… We even resorted to rewarding her with sweets (heaven forbid!) for keeping quiet. No go. We actually ran out of ideas.
We started Vanessa on Mild Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (mild HBOT) with a soft chamber around March 2006. After 40 sessions of m HBOT, we noted an increase in awareness and better use of language. But it made no impact on the verbal stimming and hyperventilation. By September 2006, we had done 70 sessions of m HBOT.
We also added neurofeedback training – using Othmers Protocol with EEG Neuroamp and BioExplorer software – to the mild HBOT sessions. After the third neurofeedback session, Vanessa’s stimming behavior stopped completely. Yes, it stopped completely. No more “I will throw you out” when riding the bus or train. We continued Vanessa on neurofeedback training on a daily basis, afraid that she might regress. She did not. Even after we reduced the training to two times a week.
I am writing this article on 26 August 2007. Verbal stimming is no longer a major problem for Vanessa. Now and then, we may catch her softly speaking to herself under her breath. We would tell her gently “Vanessa, quiet please.” She would smile back at us and would stop the monologue for days. I believe she has achieved cortical brain control over her stimming behavior, just like any other person.
I think this brain regulation was made possible by a combination of mild Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (mild HBOT) and Neurofeedback training. The mild HBOT probably laid the foundation by supplying the brain with oxygen and increased cerebral blood flow. Neurofeedback training simply allowed the final synapse connections to take place in the frontal lopes of the brain. This is where executive regulation of behavior takes place.
I am relating Vanessa’s recovery from verbal stimming with mild HBOT and neurofeedback because we have not seen such quick results from chronic verbal stimming behavior problem with neurofeedback alone. It usually takes upwards of 15 to 20 sessions of neurofeedback training to achieve some level of brain regulation.
John Yeo, MSc RAc
26 August 2007