ASAT Responds to The New York Times’, “Betsy DeVos Won’t Shed Stake in Biofeedback Company, Filings Show”

February 3, 2017

Source

To the Editors of the New York Times:

In “Betsy DeVos Won’t Shed Stake in Biofeedback Company, Filings Show,” Matthew Goldstein, Steve Eder, and Sheri Fink report that the nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, plans to keep her shares in a company, NeuroCore.  This company offers an intervention called neurotherapy to people with a variety of brain disorders such as migraines, dementia, and autism spectrum disorder.  The article focuses on whether or not her holdings may create a conflict of interest.  Leaving that issue aside, I would like to address two other important questions: What is neurotherapy, and has it been shown to be effective for the autism population?

Neurotherapy is intended to teach people to control their own brain waves.  Practitioners place electrodes on the person’s scalp.  The person sees the brain waves while watching a video.  Practitioners reward desirable changes in the brain waves (i.e., making the brain waves more like those of people without brain disorders) by continuing the video; they discourage other changes by stopping the video.

NeuroCore’s website contains many testimonials from satisfied customers.  However, these testimonials aren’t adequate evidence.  Customers may perceive improvements that outside observers do not perceive.  Or they may get better for reasons unrelated to neurotherapy, such as the natural ups and downs in their condition, other treatments they are receiving, or changes in their life circumstances.

Careful scientific studies would be a much more credible source of evidence than testimonials.  In these studies, participants would be randomly assigned to either neurotherapy or a sham treatment, and their outcomes would be objectively assessed by evaluators who didn’t know whether they received real or sham treatment.

Unfortunately, no such research exists to support the use of neurotherapy for one of the largest groups that NeuroCore markets to: people with autism spectrum disorder.  However, extensive scientific research shows the benefits of other treatments for this group, especially specialized behavioral and educational interventions.

Therefore, we at the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) do not recommend neurotherapy for people with autism spectrum disorder.  More generally, we urge consumers to beware of interventions marketed with testimonials, anecdotes, or personal accounts in place of objective evidence.  Instead, look for interventions with scientific support.  To learn more about the warning signs of an unsubstantiated treatments, visit the “Making Sense of Autism Treatments: Weighing the Evidence” section of the ASAT website.

Sincerely,

Tristram Smith, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Association for Science in Autism Treatment

 

Resources with information on intervention for autism spectrum disorder:

ASAT website: www.asatonline.org

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: http://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/index.cfm/search-for-guides-reviews-and-reports/?pageaction=displayproduct&productid=1945

National Professional Development Center: http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/evidence-based-practices

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