SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - A closer look at the next decade of healthcare and right now the spotlight is on autism.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, in 2019 1 in 59 children in the US fell somewhere on the autism spectrum.
A decade ago that was one in 68. Two decades ago, one in 150.
Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls and in most cases the conditions are apparent in the first five years of life.
To be diagnosed on the spectrum a child must have three key characteristics – delayed language, abnormal repetitive behaviors and difficulty socializing.
But it’s still unknown how or why someone gets the disorder.
While there’s no cure for autism, early diagnosis and certain types of therapies have been proven to help a child function in the real world which is why researchers are learning new non-invasive ways to fight autism at the source instead of just treating the symptoms.
A local organization is using something called brain mapping.
Three times a week, every week, 8-year-old Gavin Murby gears up for the training program his mother says is nothing short of amazing.
“At first I said there’s no way he’s going to put all those things on his head," said Gavin’s mother. “But he does because he understands he’s going to feel better after he comes here,” Nicole Murby said.
Gavin is autistic and has struggled at home and school most of his life.
“This is something that we will deal with for forever with him.”
The life-long diagnosis is becoming clearer thanks to Sarasota’s Brain Wave Center, where brain mapping therapy is helping researchers understand how brains work.
“It was stressful because you never turn off," said Murby’s mom. "You always have to make sure that he’s safe and in a safe spot.”
Where conventional therapies and medications fell short, this therapy seems to be making a difference.
“I noticed right away after a few sessions he was doing a much better job of listening when we went to stores like Publix and Walmart, he was much better at staying with me. Prior to that he would leave and run down the aisle way," said Murby.
This is exactly what Director Gregg Sledziewski says should happen.
He’s seen similar results in those with ADHD and those with learning disorders and autism by using brain mapping.
“Once we see the areas of dis-regulation or the areas where the brain is not operating within standard deviation or not the way it’s supposed to, we can determine what is the best neuro-feedback protocol to bring those waves back into standard deviation…or normal… and where we should be training," said Sledziewski.
As parents become disillusioned with treatments and medications that don’t always work, neurotechnology is seeing an opportunity to offer hope as a major breakthrough in the autism battle.
“What we’re trying to do is motivate the brain to build new neuro-pathways to bring the brain back more into balance or standard deviation," he said.
The program uses neuro-feedback – the same skill many of us used to learn our ABC’s or how to ride a bike. But instead of the alphabet or a bike, Sledziewski uses movies.
“You know you enjoy watching movies you just sit there and you listen. However, we’re always training you so when your brain is not operating efficiently you don’t get to see or hear the show, he said.
"When you are within standard deviation your brain does recognize that and you do get to see and hear the show. The brain gets that dance and starts building new neuro-pathways in order to get to where it needs to be.”
It’s a concept that you see play out in real time – the way the monitor darkens and lightens based on Gavin’s brainwaves.
When he’s paying attention the screen brightens. When his mind wanders, the opposite happens.
That’s what Gavin sees but researchers see even more.
“When he’s within standard deviation we can see they are lighting up and he can see and hear the show. When these turn red, he can’t see the show. As he’s building new neuro-pathways and he’s getting better we make it harder. So you’re always training," said Sledziewski.
But will this be the medical advancement we need to understand autism?
“We’re all learning a little more and we’re starting to get together and putting everything together to develop better plans," said Sledziewski. "Yes I think this is going to be a significant decade for the brain.”
It’s why this investment of time and effort is worth it.
“We try as many things as we can to make life the best that we can," Murby said. "There are days that are hard, there are days that Gavin has more difficult days, but we go to support groups, we get as much help as we can. I would say our success has really just been using everything that we can find that we will try to make it work.”