Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition exhibiting impairments in behaviour, social and communication skills. These deficits may arise from aberrant functional connections that impact synchronization and effective neural communication. Neurofeedback training (NFT), based on operant conditioning of the electroencephalogram (EEG), has shown promise in addressing abnormalities in functional and structural connectivity. We tested the efficacy of NFT in reducing symptoms in children with ASD by targeting training to the mirror neuron system (MNS) via modulation of EEG mu rhythms. The human MNS has provided a neurobiological substrate for understanding concepts in social cognition relevant to behavioural and cognitive deficits observed in ASD. Furthermore, mu rhythms resemble MNS phenomenology supporting the argument that they are linked to perception and action. Thirty hours of NFT on ASD and typically developing (TD) children were assessed. Both groups completed an eyes-open/-closed EEG session as well as a mu suppression index assessment before and after training. Parents filled out pre- and post-behavioural questionnaires. The results showed improvements in ASD subjects but not in TDs. This suggests that induction of neuroplastic changes via NFT can normalize dysfunctional mirroring networks in children with autism, but the benefits are different for TD brains.
Keywords: electroencephalogram mu rhythms; mirror neuron system; mu suppression index; sensorimotor systems.