Liam* was 15 months old when his mother’s worries came to a head. Although his motor skills were developing normally, Sandy* knew in her gut that something just wasn’t right.
He didn’t respond to his name. He would stare at a toy but not play with it. He would gaze for long periods at a light. He didn’t make eye contact or react when someone new walked into the room. He didn’t babble the way a baby that age would do who was learning to talk. Instead, he made random sounds.
Liam’s pediatrician assured Sandy that her concerns were unfounded, that Liam was “going to get there.”
Could Liam be autistic?
Despite the pediatrician’s reassurance, Sandy worried that Liam might be autistic. Should they wait until he was two, the minimum age for an autism diagnosis, before doing something about it?
When Liam’s grandmother made similar observations, Sandy decided to take matters into her own hands.
“We had friends with kids with autism and knew what might be in store,” she said. “Our whole world could be turned upside down.”
After doing extensive online research, Sandy was convinced something was definitely not right with Liam. “There was one red flag after another,” she said. “It was clear that Liam was living in his own world. The way he played wasn’t normal. We’d give him a car and he would spin the wheels but wouldn’t play with it. We’d give him a ball and he’d just stare at it.”
Similarities with Sandy’s brain issues
Sandy, an equestrian who rode professionally for many years, had experienced numerous concussions from falls. In the aftermath she’d had trouble speaking, reading, and putting sentences together. Neurofeedback at the Center for Brain Training had helped her recover from her brain issues, and she wondered: could neurofeedback help Liam?
“After researching autism, I realized that what I had gone through with my brain injuries was similar to what autistic kids go through,” Sandy explained. “I learned about how the brain’s neurons don’t fire properly, and I thought, I’m not a doctor but this sounds similar. I wondered if that could be happening in Liam’s brain.
Time was of the essence.
“If he was autistic, I didn’t think there’d be much available to help him until he was three, but I didn’t want to wait that long,” Sandy explained. “I wanted to get him help right away because of how quickly the brain grows at Liam’s age. I knew it would be easier to fix something then than later in life when the wrong patterns were more established.”
Sandy asked Mike Cohen, the center’s director, if he’d be able to train someone so young, and Mike said yes.
“I didn’t know if it would help Liam, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt him,” Sandy said. “My husband’s concern was if they’d have to sedate him to get him to sit still.”
They needn’t have worried. Once they queued up CoComelon** on the screen, he watched it with no resistance and didn’t even object to the sensors placed on his head.
His first session lasted 12 minutes.
Remarkable change after one session
That night, something extraordinary happened.
He made eye contact with his parents for the first time. He also saw his godmother in the house and ran right into her arms, something he had never done.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s actually helping!” Sandy recalled.
He trained for 28 minutes twice a week for the next four weeks. The family watched in amazement as his brain woke up.
Liam started talking to himself in the mirror, playing with the ball, not just staring at it. If you asked him where the ball was, he’d look around and go get it in another room. He made eye contact with everyone who came into the room and smiled at them. He tried to move his mouth and imitate what was being said to him. He started asking for food by saying “num,” waving, and saying “bye-bye.”
He’s now doing neurofeedback sessions just once a week.
Optimism for Liam
“With all the changes, we feel optimistic that Liam is going to catch up developmentally and be all right. It’s a big relief,” Sandy said.
“I wish more people knew about neurofeedback,” she added. “If you go to the pediatrician or an autism center you may not hear about neurofeedback, but neurofeedback might be able to help your child and make a huge difference in the lives of the families. For us, it certainly did.
“Neurofeedback has been life changing.”
2-Month Update on Liam (13 sessions completed)
We checked in with Sandy about Liam’s progress about two months after our first interview. She had a very encouraging update.
Now 19 months old, Liam is connecting with people, smiling, and behaving like a normal child his age, Sandy said. He brings flash cards to her to go through. He’s no longer staring at lights or endlessly spinning the wheels of his toy truck. He makes animal sounds when he sees pictures of animals, and he’s trying to talk.
“Yesterday we were at the Center for Brain office for his once-a-week session,” Sandy said. “Liam found a book and went on a search to find a tech to read it to him.”
When she took Liam to the doctor for his 18-month checkup last month the doctor said he was “very impressed” at how much he had developed.
“He told me to keep doing the neurofeedback because it was obviously working,” Sandy noted.
When Sandy recently had Liam evaluated for possible autism symptoms, he had none. “He was above the norm in most areas and was in the low-normal range on two,” she said.
“It’s such a relief to see his progress and how he’s catching up with kids his own age,” Sandy said. “He’s no longer living just in his own world.”
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.
**CoComelon is a streaming media show on YouTube with content for toddlers and preschoolers.