Is Autism A Neurological Disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts an individual's social interactions, communication, and behavior.

It is characterized by persistent challenges in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Autism is considered a spectrum disorder, meaning that its symptoms can range from mild to severe and vary greatly from person to person. [i]

Typically, autism is considered to be a neurodevelopmental disorder and  is a diagnosis that will not change over time, though symptoms may improve with treatment.

The exact causes of autism are still being researched, and it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Additionally, environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins or prenatal infections, and complications during birth may also contribute to the development of autism. [ii]

Autism diagnosis involves a clinical comprehensive evaluation for neurodevelopmental disorders. The process typically includes a thorough assessment of the individual's behavior, social interactions, communication skills, and developmental history. Medical and family histories are reviewed, and standardized diagnostic tools may be utilized. [iii]

Early diagnosis and intervention are key in supporting individuals with autism. Early identification allows for the implementation of appropriate interventions, therapies, and support services to help individuals with autism.

At the Drake Institute, we use advanced technologies to develop customized treatment protocols for patients with autism.

To learn more about how the Drake Institute treats autism spectrum disorder and other brain-based conditions, please fill out the consultation form or call us at 800-700-4233.

What is autism? 

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that ranges from mild to severe and includes repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, restricted interests, and rigidity.

Autism is considered a spectrum disorder because it encompasses a wide range of impairments  with individuals exhibiting different degrees of symptoms.

The exact causes of autism are not fully understood, but research suggests a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Environmental factors, such as prenatal exposures to toxins and infections, and complications during pregnancy or childbirth, may also contribute to the development of autism.

The level of support required for individuals with autism varies greatly depending on their specific impairments. Some individuals with autism may require extensive support in daily living activities, communication, and social interactions. Other individuals with autism may be more independent or require only minimal support. [iv]

The level of support required is highly individualized and should be tailored to the specific needs of each person with autism.

There are three levels of support recognized on the autism spectrum: [v]

Level 1

Individuals with Level 1 autism require some support in social interactions, communication, and cognitive tasks. They may struggle with understanding or complying with social conventions, appear disinterested in social interactions, and experience emotional or sensory dysregulation. [vi]

Level 2

Individuals with Level 2 autism require more support in social communication and interactions, and with academic tasks. They may require special educational accommodations and an aid to help with social interactions. They could also exhibit marked deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication and have difficulties adapting to change. [vii]

Level 3

Individuals with Level 3 autism will need the most support. They may require extensive educational accommodations, and may have severe impairments in social communication and interactions, limited interests, and engage in repetitive physical behaviors like rocking, blinking, and spinning in circles. [viii]

Signs & symptoms of autism

Typically, the signs and symptoms of autism become evident in children by the age of 2.[ix]

This neurodevelopmental disorder affects their interactions with the environment and their ability to form age-appropriate relationships with others. Some noticeable signs that can indicate the presence of autism include: [x]

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Doesn’t respond to name by 9 months of age
  • Lack of facial expressions (e.g., happy, sad, angry, etc.) by 9 months of age
  • Doesn’t play simple interactive games (e.g., pat-e-cake) by 12 months of age
  • Uses few or no hand gestures (e.g., doesn’t wave hello or goodbye) by 12 months of age
  • Doesn’t share interests with others (e.g., doesn’t show you their favorite toy) by 15 months of age
  • Doesn’t point to show you something interesting by 18 months of age
  • Doesn’t notice when others are hurt or upset by 24 months of age
  • Doesn’t notice other children and play with them by 36 months of age
  • Doesn’t pretend to be someone else (e.g., teacher, superhero, etc.) by 48 months of age
  • Doesn’t sing, act, or dance for you by 60 months of age

Why is autism considered a neurodevelopmental disorder?

Autism is a developmental disorder of neurological origin and according to NIH, autism “affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is described as a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first 2 years of life.” [xi]

In the case of autism, there appears to be a difference in brain connectivity and functioning compared to neurotypical individuals. These differences can manifest as deficits in behavior, cognition, social communication, and emotional processing as well as sometimes disruptions in sensory processing. [xii]

What are neurological disorders?

Neurological disorders encompass a wide range of conditions that affect the structure, function, and activity of the brain and nervous system.

These disorders arise due to abnormalities or dysfunctions in the nervous system, leading to various neurological symptoms and impairments. These disorders can affect cognitive abilities, motor function, sensory processing, communication, and behavior.

Some neurological disorders are: [xiii]

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Autism

What are developmental disorders?

Developmental disorders refer to a group of conditions characterized by atypical development that impacts multiple areas of functioning. These disorders typically emerge during childhood and may have long-term effects on an individual's physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development.

Developmental disorders can manifest in various ways, such as delays in reaching developmental milestones, impairments in communication and social interaction, learning difficulties, and challenges with motor skills.

Examples of developmental disorders include: [xiv]

  • ASD
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Intellectual disability
  • Specific learning disorders

As we see above, ASD is a neurological disorder and a developmental disorder, which leads to the term neurodevelopmental.

How is autism diagnosed?

The process of diagnosing autism involves a comprehensive evaluation conducted by healthcare professionals. The diagnostic process includes assessing an individual's behavior, communication skills, social interactions, and developmental history.

The initial step often involves gathering information through interviews and questionnaires with the individual's parents or caregivers. This helps provide insights into the individual's developmental milestones, early behaviors, and any concerns or challenges observed.

These evaluations typically involve standardized assessment tools. The diagnostic process also includes ruling out other possible causes for the observed symptoms.

At the Drake Institute, we include qEEG brain mapping as part of the evaluation for autism so we can link brain dysregulation to specific symptoms in order to develop the most effective treatment protocols.

Can children grow out of autism?

Parents often hold hope that their child with autism can outgrow the symptoms and lead a "normal" life. However, it's important to understand that autism is a neurologic disorder and considered a lifelong condition, though symptoms can improve with proper treatment.

The prognosis for an autistic child depends on several factors. The severity of symptoms, presence of comorbid conditions, early intervention with comprehensive treatment all play significant roles. Each case is unique, and the outcome can differ greatly from one individual to another. There are always reported, isolated cases of a child with ASD that may have outgrown the disorder, but this is not the norm.

It is crucial for parents and caregivers to focus on providing the necessary support and resources to help individuals with autism improve their development and symptoms. [xv]

Can autism be cured?

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder, and currently, there is no known cure for it. The core characteristics of autism tend to persist into adulthood, and various interventions and treatments are available to improve and reduce symptoms and thereby developing a better life.

Does autism get worse with age?

Autism is a developmental disorder that typically affects individuals throughout their lives, but whether it gets worse with age is a complex and variable issue.

While some symptoms of autism may persist into adulthood in a lessened degree, the impact and presentation of symptoms can change over time. Some individuals may experience significant improvements in certain areas, develop compensatory coping strategies, while others may become overwhelmed with complex  social and economic challenges in adulthood.

Early interventions, appropriate treatments, and support can lead to significant improvements.[xvi]

So, while autism is a neurological disorder, it is not progressive neurologically.

How The Drake Institute Treats Autism

Over the last 40 years, the Drake Institute has clinically pioneered the use of advanced treatment technologies to treat a variety of brain-based medical disorders such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, and more. Using a combination of brain map-guided neurofeedback and sometimes neurostimulation, our Medical Director creates customized treatment protocols to address each patient's needs.

Brain Mapping

To develop our individualized treatment plans, we first complete a qEEG brain map analysis for each patient. Brain mapping helps us identify which specific regions or networks of the brain are dysregulated linked to symptoms.

To collect this data, 19 sensors are placed around the scalp in areas of the brain responsible for language, focus, memory, executive functioning, social/emotional understanding and behavioral/emotional regulation. The 19 sensors measure and record brainwave activity that is processed through a normative database of neurotypical individuals.

When we compare the patient's results with those of neurotypical individuals, we can identify regions or networks of the brain that are dysregulated and causing symptoms. This information also allows us to determine how these areas are dysregulated so that we can develop specific treatment protocols that help improve brain functioning and reduce symptoms.


During neurofeedback training/treatment, sensors are once again placed on the scalp. The sensors record and display instantaneous brainwave activity visually in real-time on a computer screen with simultaneous auditory feedback as well.

During neurofeedback sessions, the patient is seeing the results of how their brain is working and with this information, they learn to improve their brainwave activity by guiding it toward healthier, more appropriately functional brainwave patterns.

We do not administer any drugs or perform invasive procedures during this process. Instead, the patient is improving their own brain functioning, guided by visual and auditory feedback.


As an adjunct to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into healthier functional patterns. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also use neurostimulation. We have found this particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

In the last forty years, Drake has helped thousands of patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and hypertension reduce or resolve their symptoms and thereby achieve a better quality of life. Call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form to get started.



















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“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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