Category Archives: Therapy & Medication

Brain Wave Therapy: Update

Sound SleepA few months ago, I wrote a post about Brain Wave Therapy and included some research into its use for the treatment of autism. I discovered that studies have been done with autistic children as young as 8, and so I wanted to see if it would help Nigel, who is now 14. I was especially interested to see if it would help with his difficulty in falling asleep, as it used to take him hours before he could calm his mind down enough to drift off to sleep, and he would be chronically groggy and irritable because of it.

Enter Brain Sync’s Sound Sleep. This CD has made a profound difference in Nigel’s ability to fall asleep quickly. Its deep Delta brain wave frequencies and soothing music help him to slow his active mind and ultimately lull him into restorative sleep. As a result, he gets up quicker in the morning, is more alert, and generally functions far better than without listening to the CD. And he loves it. Every night, he gets it set up in his CD player (Brain Sync recommends the use of headphones for optimal benefit, but due to Nigel’s sensitive hearing, he does better without them – otherwise the Delta frequencies are too much for him to process), and eagerly turns it on as soon as I say good night to him.  I feel so much better knowing that he’s getting good sleep, and then, of course, so do I.

Yearbooks As Art Therapy

Those of us who have ever had some type of counseling or psychotherapy know how beneficial it is to be able to talk with a professional about what’s going on in our lives and how we’re handling it (or not). Therapy is also helpful for discussing past events, especially traumatic ones, how they affected us, and how we can work through them. But what if talking is difficult for you? Or impossible? What if you don’t process events and emotions verbally? ASD people encounter just as much, if not more, stress and difficulty while trying to function in an NT world, and many of them have past issues they need to work through as well.

Enter art therapy for autism. When thoughts and feelings cannot be discussed verbally, art therapy works wonders. It helps to stimulate imagination, regulate sensory issues, encourage hand-eye coordination, and express emotions (including stress). Other long-term benefits include developmental growth, recreation, and self-expression. But there can even be profound benefits from just a single session of art therapy. I witnessed this last night with my autistic son.

Ten months ago, I removed Nigel from the middle school where he had been mainstreamed. He had endured daily bullying, both physical and verbal (and, of course, emotional). This put him in a constant state of anxiety and agitation, making him unable to focus and learn, unable even to function. Soon after removing him from that environment, he became much calmer and was able to focus while being homeschooled. On a weekly basis, even though months have gone by since he attended that school, he mentions how much bullying angers him or mentions something in general about bullies. I’ve always assured him that he wouldn’t have to deal with that anymore. But what I didn’t realize was that Nigel had not yet worked through the trauma of his ordeal. He couldn’t really talk about it, other than his occasional comments, and that wasn’t enough. The memories were still painful for him.

Then last night Nigel brought out his yearbook. He showed my boyfriend a picture of a girl he liked, and my boyfriend joked about how he used to draw moustaches on yearbook photos. Nigel laughed and went back to his room. He came out an hour or so later with a Calvin and Hobbes book and showed us a series of cartoons about Calvin’s bully, Moe. In one cartoon, Calvin mimics an ape as he quietly walks behind Moe. Moe and CalvinNigel couldn’t stop laughing at the cartoon. He went back to his room and came out a few minutes later with his yearbook, showing us how he had used a ballpoint pen to make the face of his worst bully into an ape face. He laughed some more and went back to his room, where he proceeded to laugh non-stop for over an hour. Finally, his laughter subsided, and I went to him to suggest that he get some sleep. He proudly showed me his yearbook. Each page of every grade level had several ape faces drawn over the bullies, both boys and girls, who had tormented him. I fought back tears and didn’t want to count how many faces he had drawn on; there were many. I couldn’t bear to think of how horrible it really had been for my son, day after day. I’ve always known that the decision to homeschool him was the right one, but now I had validation. And it sickened and angered me.

But Nigel had found a way to work through his anger. He devised his own art therapy. He scribbled out his anger while eliminating the bullies’ facial features, and then he laughed while adding humiliating details like hairy necks and stupid grins. And he felt better. As I said good night to him, he told me, “Now I can sleep without thinking about the bullies.”

I’ll try to do the same.

Surfers Healing

Writing about Nigel’s experience in the barrel reminded me of a great organization called Surfers Healing. Those I know who surf say that surfing is therapy, and at Surfers Healing, it’s therapy for autistic kids. This wonderful organization goes to both coasts to offer free surf camps for autistic kids, and the response is so positive. A recent testimonial on their site, posted by a parent, says “[Her son’s] comment on the ride home was that he wished the whole world was as comfortable as Surfers Healing events.” Since Nigel loves boogie-boarding and body surfing so much, next summer I’d love to have him participate in a Surfers Healing camp.

I think it’s the repetitive nature of the waves that makes the experience so soothing. That’s one of the things I love about going to the beach, hearing the waves breaking. But I also love being out in the water, feeling the rhythmic sensation of the tide. The ocean is dynamic, full of life and energy, and to tap into that is highly therapeutic. No wonder Nigel liked being in the barrel, the epitome of power and grace. No wonder so many hundreds (probably thousands, by now) of children have benefitted from Surfers Healing day camps. It’s therapy not just for the senses, but for the soul.

Music for Healing & Meditation

This time of year, when my sons are visiting their father for several weeks and I am alone, I spend a lot more time listening to music. I also try to spend some time meditating, and if I have music that helps me to get into a meditative state of mind, that’s what I’ll be playing.

Steven Halpern’s Inner Peace Music offers many titles in that category, as well as other categories such as healing, relaxation, and learning. Steven Halpern has been in the New Age music industry for decades and has produced dozens of beneficial titles to aid in these areas and more. Our family listens to several of his albums.

I am a long-time fan of Chakra Suite, a bestselling CD that never fails to put me in a meditative, relaxed mood. New Age Voice Magazine calls CHAKRA SUITE…The most influential New Age / Healing Album of all time.” The music on this CD is tonal in composition, without distracting chords and melodies, and is designed to balance the chakras. This creates an ideal atmosphere for meditation, relaxation, and healing. It helps immensely with the reduction of the stress that accompanies being an autism parent.

I also love Music for Sound Healing, a CD that I play for relaxing background music. The album features grand piano, electric piano, flute, and harp, and includes Halpern’s arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. All thirteen of the soothing compositions provide a beneficial, healing environment.

Nigel loves the relaxing sounds of Peace of Mind. He says that it works the best to help him sleep, and he listens to it on a regular basis. The richness of Halpern’s solo grand piano is exquisitely graceful. Aidan receives the most benefit from Sleep Soundly, with subliminal messages to instruct the listener to clear his or her mind and drift into peaceful slumber. Our household has been sleeping much better since we started listening to this wonderful music!

In addition to the titles for healing, meditation, and relaxation, Steven Halpern offers a line of subliminal self-help CDs, rhythmic world beat selections, music for yoga, music for learning, and several spoken-word meditations. Steven Halpern’s music rounds out a holistic approach to in-home therapy for stress relief, sleep problems, and other areas affecting many families today, especially those with autism. I highly recommend this beneficial music.

Insurance Coverage

This seems like a no-brainer. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, insurance (minus deductibles, etc.) covers radiation treatment. When someone is injured and needs physical therapy, insurance covers it. When someone is diagnosed with autism, why is treatment not universally eligible for coverage? According to a recent article featured in the Medford Mail Tribune, thirteen states have currently enacted an insurance mandate for coverage of autism treatment. Thirteen. Out of fifty. How lousy is that? 

We shouldn’t have to fight for this. We shouldn’t have to put on our advocate hats and write to our state representatives and lobby for something that should already be covered. We’re not talking about cosmetic surgery. We’re talking about treatments and therapy that will improve our children’s health and their ability to function.  How the proven benefits of autism treatments come into question by insurance companies is beyond my comprehension.

But even though we all know this issue to be a no-brainer, we will write to our representatives, we will fight for this. Because that’s how things get done, that’s how our children’s needs get met. That’s what we do with the school district and how we raise awareness within our community. We need universal insurance coverage for autism treatments and therapies. Since this is accomplished on an individual state basis, contact your representatives by going to http://www.senate.gov/ and http://www.house.gov/. Let them know you support insurance coverage for autism treatment and therapy and urge them to do the same. 

I plan on telling my representatives about what a difference these treatments have made in my son’s life, and that every parent of an autistic child deserves the opportunity to improve their child’s health, whether they are able to pay for it or not. After all, that’s what insurance is for.

Our GF/CF Experience

As I contemplate making old-fashioned macaroni and cheese for dinner tonight, it reminds me that I have been meaning to write a post about the whole GF/CF (gluten-free/casein-free) topic. Over the years, and especially lately with the hey-day surrounding Jennifer McCarthy’s book, my family and friends have forwarded various articles about the GF/CF diet to me, asked if I’ve read the book, or asked me if I might like to try the diet with Nigel. Here’s the short answer: Been there, done that.

Back in 2000, when Nigel was five and a half, I was on one of my every-three-month trips to Barnes & Noble in search of new autism books. Facing Autism by Lynn M. Hamilton had just come out, and that’s when I first heard of the GF/CF diet. I thought, This is it! This has to work! It made sense. And I was so motivated after reading about the positive results: the increase in language, the decrease of problem behavior, the ability to focus and improve cognitive skills. I so wanted this to work, believed that it would. I immediately went to our local natural foods store and purchased GF/CF bread, cereal, cheese, soy milk, yogurt – everything Nigel would eat. And he ate it. I could tell he didn’t really like it and wasn’t too enthusiastic about it. But I had him stick to it because I knew consistency was key to having the diet work. I told his teachers and therapists so that they wouldn’t give him regular milk and bread or crackers at school. I was so optimistic. Thought I had all the bases covered, that my years of research would finally pay off.

And so I watched my son, hoping to see some improvement after the first week or two. And then going into the third week I began to realize that, not only was he not improving, not talking more, he was actually regressing. I thought, Okay, maybe it will take a little longer. We’ll stick it out. And then going into the fourth week I began to notice that he was looking sickly, he had dark circles under his eyes, was lethargic and had very little appetite. By the fifth week he was even worse, and I had to admit that it was not helping at all. So I scrapped the GF/CF diet, let him start eating the foods he had eaten previously, and within a week he was back to his normal, healthy, neuro-diverse self.

I’m really glad that I tried the diet. If I hadn’t, I would have always wondered, every day. And I’m truly happy for Jenny McCarthy and all the many parents who have experienced such wonderful success with the GF/CF diet. I wish I could be in that group. I would be a huge advocate of GF/CF, shouting it to the world. And I’m glad that Jenny McCarthy wrote her book, so that more awareness could be raised about the diet and its effectiveness. But the fact is that it doesn’t work for everyone, like every other type of autism intervention therapy out there. In a way, though, I am an advocate for GF/CF, because I highly recommend to every parent of an autistic child: Try it. It might work for your child. And what would be more wonderful than that?

The Schedule

As those who teach or live with autistic individuals know, schedules are a necessary tool, not only for teaching, but for just getting through the day. For Nigel, his schedule is a lifeline, a beacon to show him the way. It has always been so. When so much about dealing with people is unpredictable, it comforts him to know what he’s supposed to be doing when (of course, this does not usually apply at bedtime).

I found this description of schedules for autistic students at Specialed.us:

Definition: A daily visual schedule is a critical component in a structured environment. A visual schedule will tell the student with autism what activities will occur and in what sequence.

  • Visual schedules are important for children with autism because they:
    • Help address the child’s difficulty with sequential memory and organization of time.
    • Assist children with language comprehension problems to understand what is expected of them (5).
    • Lessen the anxiety level of children with autism, and thus reduce the possible occurrence of challenging behaviors, by providing the structure for the student to organize and predict daily and weekly events.
    • Assist the student in transitioning independently between activities and environments by telling them where they are to go next.
    • Can increase a student’s motivation to complete less desired activities by strategically alternating more preferred with less-preferred activities on the student’s individual visual schedule.

      Example: By placing a “computer” time after “math”, the student may be more motivated to complete math knowing that “computer” time will be next.

    • For the student with autism, the consistent use of a visual schedule is an extremely important skill. It has the potential to increase independent functioning throughout his life – at school, home and community.

Without a doubt, schedules are highly effective tools. But Nigel’s schedules over the years have been much more than that. They have been a type of therapy. And I’m sure they will continue to function as such perhaps for all his life.

Yesterday I wrote about the type of homeschooling program I’m doing with Nigel and how I designed it. Here is his weekly schedule:

homeschool scheduleTime: What we are doing Monday through Thursday
8:00 alarm rings
8:10 out of bed, go to the bathroom, wash face
8:15 eat breakfast, rinse bowl
8:20 brush teeth
8:23 get dressed
8:30 start homeschool: Math: 1 pg of If Mathematics, 1 pg of Core Skills Math
9:00 Writing/Language Arts: 1 pg Quick Practice Writing Skills; Essay Writing, either 1 section with Mom or 1 pg by self
9:30 Science: go online to study topics from Grade Level Standards; take 5 footnotes from websites
10:10 snack & 10-min. break
10:20 Social Science: read books from library or go to websites to study topics from Grade Level Standards; take 5 footnotes from each source
11:00 Physical Education or Library Time
Mon: bike ride on Greenway
Tues: 15 min. yoga/15 min. push-ups & weights
Wed: walk to Phoenix library or drive to TMS library
check out 3 items: 1 social science book, 1 educational DVD, 1 book of choice
Thurs: 15 min. yoga/15 min. push-ups & weights
11:30T/Th Elective for the week (see elective list)
12:00 prepare & eat lunch
12:30 check responsibility chart & do chores for that day: when chores complete, you have free time
Ohomeschool schedulen Fridays I go into the office for a few hours, so that day has a different schedule. Nigel gets up at the same time and then takes one of the aforementioned educational videos, watches it, takes 5 “footnotes,” as he likes to call them, and then types a summary on his computer to show me when I get home. I am fortunate that he has reached a point where he will be okay for a few hours alone at home, following his schedule. Maybe it’s a lifeline for me too.

Brain Wave Therapy

Brain wave therapy is truly amazing. It can heal illness, stop problem behavior, increase productivity and creativity, induce sleep, optimize learning and memory, aid in relaxation and stress release, and creates a meditative environment. Kelly Howell at Brainsync.com, a leader in brain wave technology, offers this description of brain wave therapy:

First discovered by biophysicist Gerald Oster at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, brain wave audio technology sends pure, precisely tuned sound waves of different frequencies to your brain via stereo headphones. In his EEG research, Oster discovered that when different vibrations, or sound frequencies, are delivered to the brain separately through each ear (as with stereo headphones), the two hemispheres of the brain function together to “hear” not the external sound signals, but a third phantom signal. This signal is called a binaural beat, and it pulses at the exact mathematical difference between the two actual tones.

With Brain Sync programs, the binaural beat is then embedded in soothing music, helping the listener to easily attain the alternate brain wave pattern. The result is 30 or 60 minutes of peaceful meditation while your body and mind benefit from the healing frequencies.

I love Brain Sync’s programs, particularly Positive Thinking, Create Success, Deep Meditation, Deep Insight, Brain Massage, Ecstasy, Relieve Jet Lag, and Awakening Kundalini. I recently gave Mind Body Healing to my father, who is undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. Last year, a friend of mine who worked nights benefitted from Healing Sleep. The programs are highly effective.

And so I am wanting to have Nigel try brain wave therapy. Regarding using brain wave therapy with children, Brain Sync maintains “Brain wave centered programs are intended for adults only and are strongly not recommended for babies or children under the age of 15, as their brains are still developing.  If brainwave therapy is used for a child, it should be under the care, advisement and supervision of a healthcare professional.”

With that in mind, I decided to do some online research in the area of brain wave therapy, also called neurofeedback, and autism treatment, and found some positive articles. Bio-and neurofeedback programs involve equipment that monitors and measures the brain’s electrical activity instead of using the audio recordings of binaural beats embedded in music (like Brain Sync’s programs), but the goal is the same: to retrain, strengthen, and calm the brain through brain wave patterns.

Here is what I found at Autism-home.com about using neurofeedback to treat autism:

A consultant to EEG Spectrum International, Inc., which developed the software and hardware interfaces for Neurotherapy and developed training courses for appropriate clinicians, Dr. Jarusiewicz also runs a non-profit organization, Atlantic Research Institute, Inc. A.R.I. develops and manages research projects using Neurotherapy, particularly in the area of autism, learning disabilities, disordered brain issues as well as addiction. Her study on the use of Neurotherapy has been published by the peer-reviewed journal, Journal of Neurotherapy, Volume 6(4), 2002. The results were impressive. She showed with statistical significance a change (lessening) of autism behaviors by 26% in an average of 36 sessions over 4.5 months. This was compared with a control group that used conventional methods of changing behaviors that achieved 3% change. All major issues improved for all children trained: speech, schoolwork, tantrums, socialization, anxiety and depression.
Dr. Betty is now working on a pilot project to enable parents of autistic children to conduct neurofeedback from home, with the help of a licensed clinician. She is also conducting a clinical trial for FDA approval for use of neurofeedback specifically for use in the autistic spectrum, which is in the planning and development stages.

This particular article was written in reference to an 8-year-old boy, so it sounds like age was not a factor for them. I have decided to have Nigel start with a Brain Sync program soon, and I will certainly post his progress here as we go. I’m optimistic!
 

Music

There has been so much research done on music as autism therapy that I couldn’t possibly address the multitude of positive effects from it in one post. What I will do here is discuss the effects that I have seen with Nigel, including increased verbal skills, better sensory integration, and calming influences.

According to the Autism Research Institute, “Autistic children have also made enormous strides in eliminating their monotonic speech by singing songs composed to match the rhythm, stress, flow and inflection of the sentence followed by a gradual fading of the musical cues.” In his early years, Nigel watched a ton of Disney videos from which he learned to use echolalia as a means to communicate. These Disney videos also had songs that he would memorize that taught him rhythm and voice inflection, and from them he gradually gained the verbal skill of using his own words.

As he got older, Nigel began to pay more attention to the music I listen to, which is a mix of classic rock, alternative, techno/dance, world, celtic, and more. I noticed that the categories that feature harder, faster beats (some rock and techno) seemed to help with his sensory integration. He learned how to filter sounds that previously had caused him to go into sensory overload, like air hand driers in public restrooms and other loud, mechanical sounds. And now, he likes the music for its own sake; he rotates his favorite CDs on his own stereo (mostly movie soundtracks like Twister, Back to the Future, and Cars) and sings along.

When he wants to unwind and relax, he turns to some more of my music. I am happily employed by a company called New Earth Records, a spiritually conscious music label specializing in New Age, world, trance, healing music, and Osho meditations. Nigel enjoys the beat and different instruments (sitar and sarangi) of James Asher’s Tigers of the Raj, the relaxing trance rhythms of Cybertribe’s Immortality (Nigel says: “It relaxes away the stress of the day”), and the beautiful melody of Lisa Lynne’s harp on Love & Peace. When I put on Deuter’s Sun Spirit, Nigel commented how much he liked the cover (Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees”) and said that the music made him feel “like you’re in the Renaissance.” Another title of Deuter’s that I play is Earth Blue, which makes Nigel say, “I feel like I want to sleep.” For someone with occasional insomnia, that’s invaluable, as are all the benefits of listening to music.

I highly recommend playing music for an autistic child (and every child), not only as an effective therapeutic device, but also for the soothing value of it. Music adds to the quality of one’s environment and life in so many ways.

Medication

I struggled with this one for a while, not just for Nigel but also for myself.

In late 1997, after crying one afternoon because I could not stop rearranging the chairs around the kitchen table, I realized that the anxiety wasn’t going away on its own. I had several other symptoms as well: peeling skin off the bottoms of my feet until they bled, systematically pulling out my hair, and chronic insomnia. I finally went to a doctor and was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The ‘when it rains it pours’ adage is unmercifully true: my diagnosis came one month before Nigel’s autism diagnosis and my husband’s announcement that he wanted to be separated.

For six months prior to obtaining medication for myself, I had struggled with believing that it was necessary, that it wasn’t a sign of weakness. The doctor had to remind me that if something was wrong with any other part of my body, I wouldn’t hesitate to obtain the medication I needed. If I had a heart disease, I might need antiplatelet drugs. If I were diabetic, I would need insulin. I agreed to a low dosage of Zoloft, and I experienced relief from my symptoms within days of taking it. I took it for a year and a half.

Within the past year, I had noticed that Nigel exhibited signs of anxiety, possibly OCD. He pulled out his hair so much he would create bald spots. He would rub his lips so hard that  he had rough, bleeding patches around his mouth. He had chronic insomnia. I had thought that his anxiety was environmental, due to the constant stress of the middle school. When I pulled him out of the school, his lips/mouth area improved, but he still had insomnia. And the worst thing was that not only was he still pulling out his hair, he had started eating it. I knew then that, even though he was only thirteen, he needed medication. Also, I have read that autistic teens are highly susceptible to depression, and with that running in our family as well, I figured getting him on Zoloft now might cut the depression off at the pass. There are some in my family who think I jumped the proverbial gun, that he’s too young to be on medication, that I should wait and see. But pulling out your hair and eyelashes and eating them indicates a definite need for medication, and I do not regret my decision.

I am happy to report that Nigel is sleeping much better now and has a full head of hair. Life goes on. And I am far too busy to be rearranging the chairs around the kitchen table, thank God.