Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Autism and hypnosis: an interesting research possibility?

I studied hypnosis as a medical student. It was fascinating, but I never did work it into my clinical practice. For one thing, it takes practice to do and time to apply. I'd mostly forgotten about that course, but a New York Times review brought some of it back. The article's research descriptions of hypnotism, belief, perception, and the relationship to hyperconcentration led me to wonder how the studies would work if the subjects were autistic. How would the functional MRIs compare? A google search finds many uninteresting references to hypnotism and autism, but a PubMed search comes up with almost nothing. An interesting research opportunity?


Timeus425bc said...

I'm not a doc, but I was having one of those early morning think sessions, and it came to me that autism might be treated with hypnosis. The dream part of my thinking had to do with the hypersensitivity that some autism patients perceive. Then it came to me that hypnosis might be a way to alleviate some of that hypersensitivity as hyponotists have been doing for dental patients, surgery patients and on stage of years.

Cathy said...

I had the same ah-ha moment, what if some of the anxiety people with autism experience could be alievated with hypnosis. So I started looking on-line about it.

Mary Ann Harrington said...

I have worked with children with autism for many years. Children at the severe end of the spectrum, I have found to be very sensitive and susceptible to images and words, I send telepathically. Subvocalizing may also be part of the process. I don't know if it is typical hypnosis, but some type of entrainment is occurring. If anyone is doing a study of this type, please let me know. I have been looking for answers for years and I have important experiential information to share.

Ron said...

I am a Hypnotist and I am researching the use of hypnosis with autism. I am interested in info in this area.

Anonymous said...

My name is Maggie and I am a single mother of a moderate autistic little boy. He is my world and I am always looking into ways of helping him with his disorder. I think that a script for someone like me to use on my son when he is in a relaxed state that would even have the slightest hint on being able to help him would be worth it's weight in gold. To help him learn to at least communicate better with me over others. Anyone who is reading this and has an autistic little one knows, just to have a basic conversation like "How are you" to the child and the child answer in turn, is everything. I think that is a WONDERFUL reasearch possibility.

Anonymous said...

I'm mild-to-moderately autistic (Asperger's Syndrome), and have tried hypnosis and binaural audio in an attempt to change things about myself, like preventing nail biting and whatnot.

I have never had any sort of effect from this, most likely due to the difference in brain function. For some reason, I think that autism, by nature, can not be defeated by any "Easy Way Out" like hypnosis - The brain of an autistic person works too differently for it to be effective.

John Gordon said...

There've been some recent studies of hypnosis using functional MRI. It's a neat window into how it might work.

It would be very interesting to compare Aspergers variant with neurotypicals to see if there are any characteristic differences.

There's so much individual variability though that it might be tough to characterize.

Anonymous said...

I am the mother of an autistic child that is very low functioning. He is limited to single words and two to three word phrases, however, his receptive language is high. He understands most things that I say and I would like to experiment with hypnotic suggestion to expand his communication. ant recommendations on where to begin?

JGF said...

I wouldn't know where to begin. I think of this as a topic for research, but I personally wouldn't try it on one of my kids.

It's a general rule of thumb -- any therapy that can help can also hurt. (Even pure "placebo" therapies can hurt, some call those "nocebo".)

T.I. said...

Having been trained in hypnosis and NLP, I myself have been wondering about how helpful these could be for a family with an autistic child. I am not an expert on autism - far from it - but I am fascinated by this idea.

With regard to the comment about "even placebo therapies can hurt.... nocebo" - I do understand the concern, particularly when a person does not understand what hypnosis and NLP are, vs what they are commonly believed to be by the inexperienced public. And so I have to counter that statement, for the benefit of anyone who may be struggling with their own autistic child, and possible concerns regarding dangers of hypnosis and NLP.

Can hypnosis/NLP hurt? I suppose, if an untrained/unqualified person started fiddling around with words, yes, harm could possibly come of it. But wait? People talk all day long? Is this different? I don't think it is. People who don't understand the power of language throw words around constantly, and those words are seeds planted on the subconscious minds of the passive listener (the autistic child?) For example, I know a woman who has an autistic daughter who will sometimes say things within earshot of her daughter, to another (innocently) "Oh, she (daughter) can't communicate, she can't respond the way you and I do... she can't understand or read facial expressions... she can't..." And I began my interest in this topic as a result of hearing these comments. Perhaps, if her daughter is already in a naturally induced trance-like state... then just perhaps, the use of these 'cant' phrases could be communicating with the childs subconscious that these are concrete facts. WIthin the 'cant' there is a certainty, and as autistics tend to be even more concrete than the rest of us, how much more potentially harmful could such statements be.

Hypnosis and NLP are simply using words in a very conscious way to affect the subconscious experience and possibly promote change. With regard to doing harm, I think there is more harm in NOT understanding how POWERFUL words are, than in avoiding hypnosis and NLP out of fear or simple innocent ignorance.

As I said, I am not an expert on autism. However, from what I have seen, it appears as though these children are actually in a natural trance-state, and so the words which we choose when speaking not only to them, but around them and about them, just may have some impact...?!?!? SO I would urge anyone who is dealing with an autistic child to not refer to the childs condition as a fixed and unchanging, definitive condition of lack. I would encourage the shifting of language away from "can't" and toward "I wonder when he will..." and the like. By wondering about the positive possibilities, extending hope, perhaps a seed is planted which the autistic mind can interpret as an indicator that the persons condition CAN evolve. I don't believe that hope is a horrible thing. I think that parents try to cope with accepting that their child is different to the point of convincing themselves and their family that the child will never improve, almost as a protection against hoping that improvement comes. Perhaps the improvements will be minor, but setting someone up for expecting NO improvement (subconsciously) isn't going to yeild anything but self fulfilling prophesy, in my opinion.

Hypnosis and NLP are really (to simplify it) just a deliberate and conscious use of words. Whether we know it or not, we are, by communicating at all (which even silence IS communication), we ARE planting seeds on eachothers subconscious mind, and yes, to do so without awareness could be very dangerous. More dangerous even than the fears of hypnosis, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I have a child w/ autism who is "high functioning", toward the Asperger's end of the spectrum in some respects and very intelligent. However, he has overwhelming anxieties, very low frustration toleration and very few self-soothing, calming strategies, especially when overwhelmed. Therefore, he can quickly become aggressive, destroying property and attacking me, primarily. Possibly physical aggression may have become a maladaptive coping skill. I wondered if anyone knows if hypnotic suggestion might work to instill an adaptive coping strategy to calm him (while continuing other types of therapy to develop his internal world). Safety is a real concern and outplacement, which I do not want, is becoming a serious consideration.

JGF said...

@Anonymous - I don't think hypnotism will help in this context. Have you read Greenes 'The Explosive Child'? It was one of the most important books I've read. We have lived with an explosive child; though in many ways he does much better than he used to.

Anonymous said...

Yes, JGF, I have read it. Worth a reread. Try Collaborative Problem Solving as much as possible He is currently in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy which seems to be a good fit (finally). Making slow progress. I am desperate for something to calm this aggression for the whole family's sake. Can you tell me why you don't think it will work? Is it the specific suggestion or in general? If it is this suggestion specifically, maybe we can try it for something else. Thank you for your help.

Anonymous said...

That is a hard question. I'll do my best.

Hypnotism, or therapeutic suggestions, is not a very powerful therapeutic intervention. It is most useful for managing pain. I think it overlaps a lot with the "placebo" effect.

OTOH, it is interesting that a study on sedation and aggression found aggression decreased when the caregivers thought their clients were sedated -- even when they were in fact on placebos. It is speculated in this case that the placebo effect worked on both the client and the caregiver.

So if your son believed therapeutic suggestion would help, and if you also believed it would help, it might. But that's true of other interventions that have more of a track record (such as regular exercise, extinction [1], explosive child style triage, animal therapy (my #1 does horses too) and the like [2].

I imagine I can feel some of what you're going through. At least I know there's rarely anything easy. Some kids and families do well with temporary outplacement.

Our story is far from over. I guess it's never over until we're over. I can say that by the standards of the worst days these are extraordinarily good days. Yes, we have "interesting" experiences with #1, including chats with somewhat sympathetic police on some occasions, but his violent acts on us have diminished even as his strength far exceeds my wife's. Maybe (probably) tomorrow will bring a disaster, but it's been many months since he took a serious swing at us. Maybe longer. I don't like to speculate.

He never did much outside the house and he was especially hard, when he was younger, on my wife. She was understandably a lot more anxious than I, and I think her rational anxiety tended to precipitate events. He is different now. I'm not sure he'd meet the 'explosive child' criteria any more, though we've lived with it so long maybe we've just internalized all the preventive behaviors and extinction behaviors Greenes and animal trainers write about.

I suspect this is not too helpful. In one case, for what it's worth, for a time anyway, things did get better.

[1] http://bestyoucanbe.blogspot.com/2010/11/hardest-behavioral-intervention.html

[2] Try this series:

Sake said...

Hi! I am a phd student in psychology. I am also an Aspergers who has taken a course in hypnosis. Before the course I thought of hypnosis as something that i would never be able to do since I find myself too aware of what is going on inside of me all the time. And as predicted I didn't find my self very hypnotized. But my professor was of other thoughts, he claimed that I was very easy to hypnotize. At first I didn't get it, but after lots of thinking and reading I understood what was going on. Being hypnotized as a person without autistic difficulties, makes the person get into an autistic state, in my opinion. So when I was being 'hypnotisized' I expected a new dimension of councieness but was faced with my, for me, normal autistic world. That's the games I used to play with my self as a kid: being in my hypnotic 'bubble' was fun anything could happen. When people called for me, thinking i was unreachable since i didnt answer I was having lots of fun in My hypnotic state. So is hypnosis à good solution to help autistic people? According To me: no. You want to get them out of that world not deeper.

Jessica McMenemy said...

I am also a hypnotist with a child with autism and am very interested in any information I can read about hypnosis and autism

Brooki27 said...

I totally get where you're going with that, you put it into better words than I could of.
But what about hypnosis for fear ect, I wasn't thinking about my sons traits/ticks ect. But he is terrified of most foods, and has been since he was 2 years old?