Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the Potential of Photobiomodulation Therapy

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the Potential of Photobiomodulation Therapy

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by challenges with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. It affects the structure and function of the brain, leading to imbalances in how different regions communicate, how neurons fire, and even the health of the gut microbiome.

Around 1% of the world's population has autism spectrum disorder. That's more than 75,000,000 people, according to research conducted by the CDC. 1 in every 100 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder [1]. People of all ages can be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
We know that most children with ASD also present severe behavioral difficulties, including aggression, self-injurious behavior, tantrums, irritability, and sleep problems, which usually interfere with their education and development as well as the well-being of caregivers [2].

Currently, there are limited treatment options for autism, mainly focused on managing symptoms through early intervention strategies, behavioral therapies, and medications for co-existing conditions.


The Biological Mechanisms of Autism (ASD)

Autism arises from a complex interplay of genetics and environment. While genes play a strong role, there's no single "autism gene." The environment, including maternal health during pregnancy and exposure to certain factors, may interact with these genetic predispositions. Despite that, studies suggest that maternal nutrition, autoimmune disease and inflammation, and/or exposure to air pollutants (e.g., heavy metals) or various drugs (e.g., thalidomide or valproic acid) during preconception and pregnancy can aggravate a genetic problem or damage the brain, increasing the risk of autism [3].

Brain abnormalities are often seen in autism too. These can involve changes in size and structure, as well as imbalances in connections and communication between brain cells. Additionally, there might be signs of inflammation, impaired function of cellular powerhouses (mitochondria), and alterations in growth factors.

Intriguingly, the gut bacteria composition seems to be linked to autism, suggesting a potential influence of the "gut-brain axis" on brain development and behavior.
While the exact causes of autism remain under investigation, this explanation highlights some of the key factors involved.


How Photobiomodulation for Autism Can Be Helpful

Photobiomodulation therapy offers hope for individuals with Autism. This treatment involves applying red and near-infrared light to the body. While it sounds simple, the potential benefits for autism are quite significant.

Here's how photobiomodulation might work:

  • Boosting neurons: The light may stimulate the production of ATP, a molecule essential for energy production within neurons, promoting their health and survival;
  • Calming inflammation: Photobiomodulation has the potential to reduce the activation of glial cells, which are involved in the brain's inflammatory response, leading to a calmer brain environment;
  • Supporting the mitochondria: The therapy might enhance the function of mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells, potentially reducing the damaging effects of free radicals;
  • Gut microbiome influence: Studies suggest photobiomodulation may even positively influence the composition of gut bacteria, which could have a positive impact on brain health.


Credits: Hamilton, C. et al. (2022) [3] 

The diagram illustrates potential brain and gut abnormalities in autism (smaller cerebellum, altered gut bacteria, poor brain connectivity, cellular imbalance, inflammation, and others) and how photobiomodulation might improve communication, cell function, and overall brain health.

Photobiomodulation Safety

The safety profile of photobiomodulation is another reason for optimism [3]. It has a well-established safety record with minimal side effects. Additionally, it's non-invasive, painless, and potentially convenient for home use with user-friendly devices. It’s considered safe for both children and adults.

Photobiomodulation presents a captivating new direction for autism treatment. Its potential to address multiple aspects of the condition, coupled with its safety and ease of use, warrants continued investigation. 

For this reason, researchers suggest that individuals with autism should use, on a daily basis, a transcranial photobiomodulation helmet to improve the abnormal connectivity across the cortex, together with reducing the pathology and inflammation [3].


Tracking Brain Changes in Autistic People with Photobiomodulation and EEG

Studies using brain imaging techniques like EEG have shown that brain activity in people with autism seems to be different [2, 4]. A study from 2023 [4] that analyzed 292 EEG from children with ASD even suggests that nearly 80% of the EEG recordings showed these abnormalities.

Specifically, there seems to be increased activity within certain brain regions (local overconnectivity) but decreased communication between distant regions (long-range underconnectivity). 

This imbalance might involve the corpus callosum, a structure connecting the brain's hemispheres. Additionally, fMRI studies have revealed altered connections within a network called the default mode network (DMN), which plays a role in self-awareness and daydreaming. This network dysfunction has been linked to social interaction difficulties in autism [3].


Case Study: Potential Benefits of Photobiomodulation and Neurofeedback for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

This case study, conducted by Roger Lee, FSERA®, MSc, founder of Brain Infinity Neurofeedback, explored the potential benefits of a combined treatment approach for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Mr. Lee's organization focuses on utilizing scientific methodologies to alleviate or achieve remission from various mental health conditions, including ADHD, ASD, and mood disorders.

The case study involved a child with ASD, identified as C.C.K., who underwent a photobiomodulation protocol using the Neuradiant 1070 device by Neuronic. This treatment was complemented by swLORETA, an advanced form of neurofeedback (NF). swLORETA provides auditory or visual feedback based on real-time analysis of brain network activity across the cortex, cerebellum, and specific subcortical structures.

C.C.K. exhibited limited verbal abilities and difficulty comprehending everyday conversations. He displayed multiple core symptoms of ASD, including low verbal and cognitive performance. Additionally, he struggled to consistently identify his teachers, often confusing their surnames. C.C.K. also exhibited a speech disfluency, characterized by pauses of several seconds before initiating verbal communication.


Pre and Post-Treatment EEG Analysis

An analysis of C.C.K.'s pre-treatment EEG (electroencephalogram), shown below, revealed several abnormalities. These included reduced power in lower frequency bands, excessive power in the beta and high-beta frequencies, and overall diminished coherence across various frequency bands. Notably, a follow-up EEG conducted three months later (post-treatment) demonstrated significant improvements in all these parameters.


C.C.K. pre and post-EEG

The combined intervention of photobiomodulation and neurofeedback resulted in positive changes in C.C.K.'s social interaction and language skills. He demonstrated a significant improvement in his ability to identify his teachers by name, albeit with a slight delay of two to three seconds. Additionally, he could now confidently greet and farewell his teachers verbally without hesitation. Moreover, C.C.K. developed the ability to express his emotions verbally and communicate his desires clearly for the first time. 

Notably, C.C.K. was able to complete a drawing of a dinosaur for the first time, following verbal instructions from his teacher. This accomplishment, compared to a potential lack of prior attempts or unclear drawings, suggests a marked improvement in his receptive language skills.


Credits: Roger Lee


Currently available options for autism often focus on managing symptoms rather than addressing the underlying neurological and microbiome abnormalities that contribute to the condition. The sheer complexity and variation in how ASD manifests further complicates the development of effective, broad-spectrum treatments  [3].

Photobiomodulation has shown promise in improving some of the key brain function and microbiome changes observed in ASD. This is particularly exciting as photobiomodulation boasts several advantages: it has a very safe profile with minimal to no side effects, it's non-invasive, and the devices used are user-friendly, leading to high patient compliance [3]. 


  1. Maenner MJ, Warren Z, Williams AR, et al. Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2020. MMWR Surveill Summ 2023;72(No. SS-2):1–14. DOI:

  2. Pallanti, S., Di Ponzio, M., Grassi, E., Vannini, G., & Cauli, G. (2022). Transcranial Photobiomodulation for the Treatment of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): A Retrospective Study. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 9(5), 755.

  3. Hamilton, C., Liebert, A., Pang, V., Magistretti, P., & Mitrofanis, J. (2022). Lights on for Autism: Exploring Photobiomodulation as an Effective Therapeutic Option. Neurology International, 14(4), 884–893.

  4. Santarone, M. E., Zambrano, S., Zanotta, N., Mani, E., Minghetti, S., Pozzi, M., Villa, L., Molteni, M., & Zucca, C. (2023). EEG Features in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Retrospective Analysis in a Cohort of Preschool Children. Brain sciences, 13(2), 345.

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