Optical-imaging-based neurofeedback to enhance therapeutic intervention in adolescents with autism: methodology and initial data

Neurophotonics. 2017 Jan;4(1):011003. doi: 10.1117/1.NPh.4.1.011003. Epub 2016 Aug 17.


Impaired facial processing may contribute to social dysfunction in certain individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Prior studies show that electroencephalogram-based and functional magnetic resonance imaging-based neurofeedback might help some individuals with ASD learn to modulate regional brain activity and thus reduce symptoms. Here, we report for the first time the feasibility of employing functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)-based neurofeedback training in children with ASD. We developed a method to study physiological self-regulation of oxy-hemoglobin using real-time feedback. The paradigm is illustrated with initial data from four subjects who engaged in a facial-identity recognition training program during which an implicit reinforcement was given based on the participant's brain activity and behavioral performance. Two participants had a confirmed diagnosis of ASD, and the other two were typically developing (TD). One participant with ASD and one TD participant received real-feedback (real-FB) during the training, whereas the other two received sham-feedback (sham-FB). After five training sessions, the subjects who received real-FB showed more improvement in facial recognition performance compared with those receiving sham-FB, particularly in the participant with ASD. These results suggest fNIRS-based neurofeedback could enhance therapeutic intervention in children with ASD.

Keywords: autism; face recognition; functional near-infrared spectroscopy; implicit reinforcement; neurofeedback.