Brain-Based Autism Treatment: Interview with Dr. Robert Melillo

Dr. Robert Melillo
Dr. Robert Melillo

Is brain-based treatment an effective approach for autistic disorders? Autism expert Dr. Robert Melillo, co-founder of the Brain Balance Achievement Centers, believes treating brain imbalances can successfully manage and improve autism symptoms.

About Dr. Robert Melillo

Dr. Robert Melillo is the creator of the Brain Balance Program? and the co-founder of the Brain Balance Achievement Centers. He is an internationally recognized expert in autism, neurology and childhood developmental disorders. Dr. Melillo is the author of the best-selling book, Disconnected Kids and its sequel, Reconnected Kids. He also serves as the Executive Director of The FRC Research Institute and The Children's Autism Hope Project, and the President of the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation.

Learn About Brain-Based Autism Treatment

LoveToKnow (LTK): The Brain Balance Achievement Centers website describes the program as "brain-based." What does "brain-based" mean?

Dr. Robert Melillo (RM): The Brain Balance Program that I describe in Disconnected Kids, and that we use in our Brain Balance Achievement centers, is the only program that is available that started from the very beginning and is completely based on brain research.

It all started with the primary question, "What is actually happening in the brain of a child with autism, ADHD, dyslexia etc., and how does it produce the issues that we see?" Every time I do a lecture to group of professionals or parents this is always the first question I ask the audience. I ask them to raise their hands if they feel they could tell me what is happening in the child's brain. In almost every case not one person ever raises a hand.

The brain learns much more than just academic skills, although this is the only thing we think of when we think "learning disability." EVERYTHING we learn is learned by the brain, including:

  • Social skills
  • Emotional recognition in others and ourselves
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Reading emotions and situations
  • Proper behavior

Therefore learning disabilities can take different forms. In some cases, they involve an inability to learn academic information, reading, memorizing facts and figures, math problems etc. But other times they involve the inability to learn social skills and emotional regulation, recognition and controlling attention and behavior. From this perspective all of the disorders that we have discussed autism, ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, PDD, and more, can be considered different forms of learning disabilities.

However, most people think of brain problems as being "medical" diseases and learning disabilities are considered educational problems. They recognize that "medical" problems may involve the brain, but yet don't really think of educational problems as involving the brain. However, we all inherently understand that the brain must ultimately accomplish all learning of any kind. As such, we should automatically recognize that the primary problem in these conditions involves a problem with the brain.

The Brain Balance Program was built from the ground up based first and foremost on brain science. It all started with understanding of what the actual problem is in the brain and then using the scientific literature to design a program directed at improving and or remediating that problem. That problem in scientific terms is a functional disconnection.

LTK: How do brain-based autism treatments differ from traditional autism treatments?

RM: Most traditional treatments are not directed at correcting a problem in the brain. Most of the therapies and programs attempt to improve a particular skill, whether that is academic, motor, and sensory processing, or behavioral. They are typically dealing with a piece of the puzzle and they are just trying to improve that one skill, never really asking why is that skill deficient and what does it have in common with all of the other skills that are deficient.

Our approach actually recognizes that ALL of the symptoms of autism are produced by the brain, not just academic, cognitive, behavioral, social or emotional problems, but all of the metabolic issues as well. The brain controls everything; it controls the digestive system and the immune system. It controls the body's ability to fight off infections and to clear toxins from the body. In this scenario, the brain causes all of these problems first and then they also have a negative effect on the brain as well contributing to the severity of the problem.

We also realize that a child's brain is not the same as an adult brain. We have to build from the foundation up but all directed toward building the brain in a balanced way.

In our program all of these problems need to be addressed but when we correct the primary problem in the brain all of these symptoms go away. These metabolic issues are caused by the brain. They do not cause the brain problem in most cases.

Advice for Parents

LTK: What advice do you have for parents of children with autism?


  • Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can, and don't be afraid of reading research or anything else.
  • Don't rely on others, including professionals, to explain what is happening in your child's brain because most of them don't know much more than you do. Realize everyone working with your child, although dedicated and caring, also has his or her own bias and perspective. Speak to many different professionals.
  • Read my book Disconnected Kids. If it fits, use the book and follow the program.
  • Never lose hope. The idea that autism is a purely genetic disorder and that nothing can help is probably not true. We are learning more each day and I believe we can see significant answers in the next 5 to 10 years.

Hope for Children with Autism

Dr. Melillo's Brain Balance Program treats the entire condition of autism and not just individual symptoms by focusing on the brain. Brain-based autism treatment seeks to restore function in areas of the brain that may cause autism to lessen or even eliminate symptoms. Dr. Melillo's books offer a comprehensive guide to brain-based autism treatment, and are good introductions to the program for anyone considering entering a child in the Brain Balance Achievement Centers.

Dr. Melillo believes that the answers to the many mysteries of autism lie in the brain, and that further research will lead to a brain-based cure. Research continues to look for potential causes, effective treatments and possible cures for autism. Autism experts like Dr. Melillo offer hope that more effective treatments and even a possible cure for autism can be found in the near future.

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Brain-Based Autism Treatment: Interview with Dr. Robert Melillo