Animal- assisted therapy for ASD

Dog is a Man’s Best friend

After a long hard day, coming home and cuddling up to your kitten or dog can be the perfect fix. Human and animal interactions have been found to be mutually beneficial. Not only can they be the perfect pets and playmates, animals can also be used as forms of therapy.

You can always count on your dog or your cat to be your support system and take your side in any argument. They don’t understand that you probably did the wrong thing, and that’s what makes them the perfect sidekick (amongst other things). 

Benefits of Animal- Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy refers to the idea of using animals as a form of treatment to improve symptoms related to social, emotional or cognitive well being.  Animal-assisted therapy has been found to help with feelings related to distress, depression, and anxiety. Sometimes animal-assisted therapy can even reduce physical pain and help reduce heart rate and blood pressure. Also, animal-assisted therapy has been found to greatly enhance social and communication skills especially for people with autism.

What is ASD?

Autism Spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder which consists of deficits related to social skills, communication, and repetitive patterns of behaviors.  At around 8-10 months, while most neurotypical babies will become responsive and engaged, babies with ASD will be disinterested, delayed in babbling and less likely to play social games. Also, toddlers with ASD can appear as not attached to their parents.  This is because they show connection and emotional differently than neurotypical children.

People with ASD begin to communicate and speak later on in life and usually engage in “repetitive behaviors” like hand flapping, jumping or rocking. It can be difficult for people with ASD to form relationships or communicate with other people. However, early intervention to reduce symptoms and improve behavior is key for people with ASD.

Why is animal-assisted therapy good for ASD

Animal-assisted therapy provides a way for people with ASD to interact socially in a caring, non-judgemental environment. In animal-assisted therapy, children with ASD are touching the animal, playing with the animal and talking. Animals can help reduce anxiety, provide warmth and comfort and bring a smile to anyone’s face.

There are anecdotal stories of children with ASD engaging in play with service dogs and exhibiting more social behaviors after these interactions.  In one research study, after playing with a dog, children with ASD  were found to be more playful, focused and altogether more social than they had been before.

After engaging in play with a dog or other animals, children with ASD can be motivated to engage in social interactions and enhance their communication skills. In one survey given to parents with children who had ASD, 94% of parents who had their children interact with dogs, agreed it allowed them to expand and enhance their social skills

Interventions like working on social skills and self-help tips are crucial for individuals with ASD. Individuals with ASD have the ability to live meaningful lives, participate in communities, and enhance their education and career. Animal-assisted therapy is one way in which people with ASD can learn in a fun and natural way, the value of communication and connecting to others.


Work Cited




Neurofeedback for Children with ADHD

Parents, are you fed up?

Every year, it seems as though there is a new statistic showing how ADHD diagnoses are increasing in the United States. Now that we know more about the disorder, it is easier to pinpoint the symptoms and intervene with children experiencing inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Medication, mainly stimulants, is recommended as the number one treatment option for ADHD. The best treatments involve a combination of medication, therapy, and behavioral interventions.

Some parents, however, do not want to medicate their child. Medications can cause a whole host of side effects. While they are taken to affect a specific area of the brain, medication can impact other areas of the body as well.

Stimulants increase dopamine stimulation but they can cause side effects that affect other parts of the body.  Children on medication can experience sleep issues, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, and other physical symptoms. 

Hmmm…. have you tried  Neurofeedback for children with ADHD?

Sometimes it seems everything your trying is not working. The medication and behavioral interventions are “fine” but they do not work long term or sometimes do not work at all.

Or maybe, you want to add something new to the mix of treatment that involves “teaching” your child’s brain new tricks.  A new promising intervention that is garnering support is known as Neurofeedback!

Neurofeedback is a treatment which focuses on “training” a brain to focus and pay attention. The goal of this intervention is that the brain should learn on its own how to become more attentive. By learning to stay focused and attend, one can actually teach their brain to “actively listen” and increase fast brain wave activity. 

What happens in session one of Neurofeedback?  

In this intake session, participants have electrodes attached to their heads as they watch a video, play a  game or pay attention to a screen. During this time, an EEG records their brainwave patterns to measure their brain activity and compares it with what a “typical” brain wave pattern should be (of a non-ADHD person). 

Typically, people with attentional issues and ADHD have abnormal brain wave patterns: they are either processing information too slowly or too quickly. This means that their brains are being over-active (fast brain waves) or under-active (slow brain waves).

The EEG recording taken in the first session shows the clinician the mapping of the patient’s brain wave patterns and color codes where activity or inactivity is occurring.

The end goal of all neurofeedback sessions is to match the individual with ADHD’s brain wave patterns to what an attended/focused brain wave pattern looks like. 

Session two and beyond- Neurofeedback Treatment

In the next sessions of neurofeedback,  electrodes are attached to a participants head as they play a computer game, watches a show or pays attention to a picture on a screen.

If they lose focus or stop paying attention to the task, their EEG recording shows this increase in slow brain wave activity and their computer game, show or picture pauses or blurs. 

The only way for a participant to get the video or picture to continue or un-blur is for them to concentrate and focus again (increase brain activity). This is a sign to the participant that their brain needs to focus, once they start to concentrate the brain wave pattern is normal again.

Studies on Neurofeedback :

Neurofeedback has been found to be successful compared to other treatment options in alleviating ADHD symptoms in children. However, being that it is a newer treatment option, there remains far less literature on neurofeedback than on other methodologies such as therapy and medication.

Regardless, there remains a vast amount of people with personal stories of how neurofeedback was extremely effective in improving their child’s ability to focus.  There are examples of parents who did not want to use medication or wanted to try this in combination with other treatments that have boasted of the results. More research definitely needs to be conducted to prove that neurofeedback can be effective without medication in treating children with ADHD. 


  • Neurofeedback requires 20-40 sessions, about half hour to forty minutes each.
  • It can be quite pricey with parents spending up to $3,000 on this treatment option! Definitely, take this into account and be sure to find the most viable treatment option for your child 🙂 

Work Cited

Vollebregt, M. A., van Dongen-Boomsma, M., Slaats-Willemse, D., & Buitelaar, J. K. (2014). What future research should bring to help resolving the debate about the efficacy of EEG-neurofeedback in children with ADHD. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 8.


Negative Thought Patterns

Living life as an adult with ADHD can be challenging. As you grow older, one takes on more responsibilities with getting the first career, pursuing higher education, romantic relationships, and personal responsibilities. With all these new obligations, there are more opportunities for symptoms of ADHD to cause impairment: trouble getting to work on-time, forgetting to pick up your prescription, or spacing out on a date.

All these seemingly failures can create patterns of negative thinking and beliefs such as “I mess everything up”, “this is all my fault”, “everything is always wrong”. With these thoughts floating in someone’s brain, the pattern of negativity will ensue.

Medication can help with the main symptoms of ADHD in helping one’s attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity but sometimes that is not enough. To ward off these negative thoughts, a person needs to learn to recognize them and the unwanted behaviors that they cause— this is where CBT comes in.

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a therapeutic approach aimed at changing behavior. The overall goal of this technique is to recognize negative thoughts and change behavioral patterns which will, in turn, change overall cognition.CBT differs from psychotherapy as CBT focuses on the present with current thoughts and current behavioral patterns, rather than exploring past experiences. CBT has primarily been used for anxiety and depression, but with its focus on changing behavior, it can be modified to greatly fit the needs of those with ADHD

Certain negative thought patterns CBT addresses include: all or nothing thinking, selective attention and catastrophizing. Selective attention refers to just focusing on certain details and leaving out the bigger picture. All or nothing thinking refers to the thought pattern that people will either do “everything” and if they cannot, they just do “nothing”. For example, people with this type of pattern who are diets, if they broke the diet, would just continue to binge because it’s “all or nothing”. Either they are healthy the whole day or are eating junk the whole day – no middle ground. 

Catastrophizing, something we are all guilty of at times, refers to the idea that every negative event gets blown out of proportion. For example, someone comes late to work, in his or head, the whole day is ruined, perhaps he or she will get fired and the negative thoughts culminate.


CBT contains an adaptive aspect that stimulant or non-stimulant medications do not: CBT helps an individual learn to plan and organize and better function in society with ADHD. An example of CBT for ADHD would include the idea of breaking down bigger tasks into little parts or learning to better manage one’s time. To put it simply, CBT tackles problems.

CBT focuses on creating positive beliefs and modifying behavior by understanding one’s own cognition. With a CBT approach, a person learns to recognize and pause certain automatic thoughts like “I am a failure” or “This won’t work”.  Instead of thinking “This won’t work”, a person can learn skills and strategies to change the behavior and in doing so, change the distorted thought patterns as well.  An adult with ADHD will focus on changing behaviors of always being tardy or always being unorganized with new behaviors like being on time or keeping a planner. 

Thoughts, behaviors, and emotions work together in ADHD. When someone has low self-esteem and is constantly late or distracted, he or she will feel turmoil emotionally. CBT works with all aspects of this triad– challenging the beliefs, changing the behaviors and in turn enhancing one’s emotional well being.

CBT vs Medication

Medication has been proven to be effective for helping the ADHD brain focus, remain attended and less distracted. In general, it is primarily used as the first line of treatment because of the amount of research and scientific support for its benefits.

Some studies investigating the effects of a CBT intervention for people with ADHD have found that CBT can be effective with and without medication. Even for people with medication, their stimulants are not teaching them to change their habits or master certain skills. Also, there are people who just do not respond well to drugs and get side effects. Thus, CBT can be beneficial in combination with medications or in some cases, on its own. CBT can also help an individual with their low self-esteem and negative beliefs by reducing distorted thought patterns.

CBT, in a group setting, can be helpful because adults will have a community of other people going through the same thing for support. In this group setting, adults can learn skills like self-management, keeping a planner and being on time for things with a group of other people. This support and level of camaraderie can just enhance the effects of CBT as people are not only learning new skills but also gaining a space where they can open up about their issues to those who truly understand.

Work Cited

Weiss, M., Murray, C., Wasdell, M., Greenfield, B., Giles, L., & Hechtman, L. (2012). A randomized controlled trial of CBT therapy for adults with ADHD with and without medication. BMC psychiatry, 12(1), 30.

Outgrowing ADHD … or growing into it?

ADHD across the life span:

About 1/3 of children who are diagnosed with ADHD are said to no longer meet criteria for it when they reach adulthood. Still, this leaves a majority of the children diagnosed with ADHD, experiencing the symptoms throughout their life time. Children with more severe impairments or co-morbid conditions (such as anxiety and depression) are less likely to “outgrow” their ADHD.

Outgrowing ADHD refers to the idea that as children mature, they no longer experience their symptoms because they have gained control over them. Also
“growing out of ADHD” is also associated with the idea that ADHD is soley a children’s disorder.

ADHD symptoms do change across the life span and ADHD will look very different in an eight-year-old child compared to a forty-year-old adulthood. As a child, ADHD will be reflected through hyperactivity and impulsivity like constantly running around, blurting out responses or poor conduct in school. As an adult, inattention becomes the more primary symptom and tasks like planning and organizing are challenges. 

One must be careful to understand that a child may not be outgrowing their ADHD but perhaps their ADHD symptoms are changing as they mature. It is possible to stop experiencing ADHD symptoms but then again, this is for the less severe cases with no co-morbidity and still for only 1/3 of cases.

Why is outgrowing ADHD possible?

Studies have been conducted to understand how brain development in ADHD youth compares to development non-ADHD youth. These studies have found that brain development works almost the exact same way in both groups, just that children with ADHD experience delays in development.

When comparing scans of children with ADHD to non-ADHD children, the brains of the children with ADHD matured about three years later than normal. But once their brains matured, it was the same as the non-ADHD children. At around age 7.5,  the cortex of non-ADHD children thicken and this occurs at the age of 10.5 in children with ADHD. This thicker prefrontal cortex is responsible for memory, attention, and suppression of thoughts.

This can explain why children with ADHD are able to outgrow their symptoms: once their brain matures, they have better control over their thoughts and impulses. Interestingly, the primary motor cortex matures faster in ADHD children which can explain why they are more likely to feel restless and fidget. 

Can you be in full remission from ADHD?

Some studies have explored adults in full remission from ADHD and adults in partial remission from ADHD (meaning they experience some symptoms but do not meet criteria). These investigations found that adults who did not meet full criteria for ADHD anymore still experienced difficulties in psychosocial functioning.

While their ADHD symptoms may have been alleviated, they still were having trouble in interpersonal relationships and other types of functioning. It is important to understand that ADHD can affect a range of areas, not just executive functioning.  Psychotherapy or other forms of treatment can always be helpful regardless of age or life stage. 

It is especially important to manage symptoms of ADHD in teenagers and adolescents as impulsivity can be dangerous. Youth with ADHD are more likely to take part in risky behavior like unsafe sex, substance abuse, and dangerous driving. Stimulant medication, therapy or other interventions can curb these impulses and teach a teen strategies to prevent dangerous situations.

Take away points 🙂 

1.Do not assume a child has outgrown ADHD! More than half the cases persist into adulthood

2.Adults face different challenges than children do (so their ADHD symptoms may look different)! 

3. More and more research is showing ADHD can persist over decades

4. Treatment is SO important at all stages of life!!!!!! 

Work Cited,8599,1683069,00.html

Young, S., & Gudjonsson, G. H. (2008). Growing out of ADHD: the relationship between functioning and symptoms. Journal of Attention Disorders, 12(2), 162-169.