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Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Treat Autism Symptoms

Conventional Autism Treatments
TMS – A Safe Alternative
Ongoing Researh
TMS for ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD refers to a very wide range of behavioral symptoms which health providers categorize in different ways. ASD affects a person’s communication skills, social interaction, behavior, and interests. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ASD affects 1 in every 59 8-year-old children in 2014. The disorder is four times more common in boys than in girls and can happen to anyone regardless of racial or ethnic groups.

Conventional Treatment Methods

There are a number of currently available treatments for people with ASD but mostly involve prescription medications for symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and inattentiveness. Some may include classes that help those people learn social skills, adaptive coping, problem-solving which all focuses on how they can manage their daily living routines.

Conventional treatment methods may offer relief for some patients but many are left unsatisfied with the results. These medications may not work for everyone with ASD and using prescription medications often lead to far worse health conditions.

 

TMS: A Safe Alternative Treatment

Two of the most common ASD symptoms include difficulties in social interaction and repetitive behaviors both verbal and non-verbal. People with ASD along with their loved ones spend a lot of time seeking out various treatments for alleviating the symptoms.

Many neuroscientists are now exploring different possibilities to treat ASD symptoms without the danger of various health complications. Experts are now looking for the possibility of using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to address the problem.

TMS used safe and painless electromagnetic waves that can stimulate certain brain areas to produce neurotransmitters necessary for normal brain activity.

Medical professionals place a coil near the prefrontal cortex of the patient stimulating the region in the brain that regulates mood and behaviors.  It’s a proven technique to treat major depressive disorders which the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2008. There are no known severe adverse effects of TMS which many health care providers considered as safe and effective.

 

Ongoing TMS research

For the past few decades since its development, scientists have been studying the use of TMS as a possible treatment option for different neurological and psychiatric disorders. Today, the FDA gave its official nod for TMS as an alternative treatment method for depression in adults who failed to respond to conventional medications. Having an FDA approval signifies its importance of having a safe procedure which can help with other conducted clinical trials.

With various studies supporting TMS efficacy in modulating mood and behaviors, neuroscientists are now considering this technique to address the two main challenges associated with ASD – social interaction and repetitive behaviors.

The Harvard University, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Boston Children’s Hospital and at the University of Louisville published the medical research findings in using TMS in ASD-related symptoms. Today, there are more than 100 patients with ASD that had been published in several professional scientific journals worldwide.

 

TMS as an Alternative Treatment for ASD

Currently, there are several research studies on TMS as a treatment method for ASD. Even though it’s still at its infancy stage, TMS is seen to help relieve symptoms such as repetitive behaviors, and irritability. According to experts, TMS can help improve other autism-related disabilities like eye-hand coordination and social skills.

A lot of patients with ASD in these pilot studies have shown significant improvements in their social skills and other executive functioning.

Patients who participated in these early studies become more aware and able to project conventional demeanor. They are observed to have a better social functioning, ability to read nonverbal cues, and were able to interact with another person. As they improved their social skills, experts noticed that they also show decreased rigidity and repetitive behaviors.

With its positive initial results, there are three known clinical trials using TMS as a treatment for ASD-related symptoms. A research study in Canada focuses on how TMS can help with executive functioning.  Another study in Israel is looking at the effects of TMS in children and adolescents with ASD and intellectual disability. Lastly, a French study is finding ways at the possible changes in social cognition in adults with ASD using TMS.

 

Autism is a complex condition in the brain which impairs communication and social interactions. It affects 1 out of 80 Americans on average, even more so when you consider the world. Autism has a lot of varied symptoms and severities that it’s called “Autism Spectrum Disorder” to help encompass all of it.  

The cause of Autism is about as varied as its symptoms. In some cases, it’s caused by a faulty gene. In others, it caused by chemical imbalances or viruses during pregnancy, such as German measles. Autism is generally detectable around birth, up to the 3rd year of age. In some cases, a person may not display symptoms in the early years, only to dip in development after the 3rd year.

 

Today’s Autism Treatments

Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder is generally advanced methods of training. There are also drugs that help manage certain severities of autism like antipsychotics. Ultimately, once it’s detected, it should be given attention as soon as possible.

One problem is that for children and adolescents with severe conditions, treatment is extensive. It’s a long-term procedure that demands attention, both medical and financial. It impacts the quality of life of both the child and their parents.

There is promising hope for alternative treatment. It’s in a form of a special machine attached to an electromagnet. The procedure is called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, TMS for short. It uses electromagnetic waves to stimulate specific areas of the brain.

 

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Trials for Autism

The treatment is still in the experimental stage. There’s no government-approved methods yet, but clinical trials all over the world show promise. What makes transcranial magnetic stimulation a novel approach to brain treatment, is how simple the procedure is.

An 8-shaped magnet is placed on the patient’s head. Afterwards, the machine generates precise pulses of electricity that activates the electromagnet. This delivers a precise amount of electromagnetism into the brain, causing the targeted part to activate. The effect is both seen and felt during the testing and mapping phase. In this phase, the electromagnet will target the motor area of the brain, causing the hand or a foot to twitch when the magnet is activated.

How TMS Works to Treat Autism

How it works to treat Autism, is essentially the same way you learn how to do a certain task. TMS therapy will activate certain parts of the brain to “flex” them. The procedure lasts up to 6 weeks, with daily, 30-60 minute processes. With this repetitive process, the brain eventually learns to activate properly and all the parts around the area adapt accordingly. By aiming the electromagnet on the part of the brain that controls communication, it can train the area to work correctly.

Clinical trials have shown improvements in a child’s behavior. There’s improvement in social skills and hand-eye coordination, which are markers for progressive brain development. TMS therapy, combined with proper training could be the key to reversing the effects of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

It’s only a matter of time before a proper method of TMS therapy is approved. With promising results from clinical trials and the global effort of researchers, we’re one step closer to fully understanding our brain, and perhaps a cure for its many illnesses.

 

What is Autism?

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Autism affects 1 in every 68 births and about 1 percent of the world population. Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder is a mental condition that affects how a person interacts with other people and his or her environment. ASD is often characterized by difficulty in:

  • Forming social skills
  • Repeated behaviors
  • Problems in speech and nonverbal communication

 

The term ‘spectrum’ refers to the different kinds of challenges and strengths that each person with autism may face. There are many types of autism, which caused by various combinations of genetics and environmental factors.

Some of the signs of autism tend to show in children ages between 2 to 3 years old. This means a diagnosis can come as early as 18 months old and possibly earlier for certain developmental delays.

 

Common Early Signs of Autism:

  • Avoiding eye contact and choosing to be alone
  • Problems communicating with other people
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feeling
  • Has delayed language (verbal) development
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Easily distracted by slight changes in their environment or routine
  • Has very limited interests
  • Doing odd behaviors like rocking, spinning, or flapping
  • Reacts unusually to loud sounds or reactions
  • Has strong responses to different lights, colors, textures, and tastes

 

Early Diagnosis is Key in Treating Autism

Early diagnosis is the key to treating autism in young children. Getting the right help as soon as possible can lead the person to living a full life. The main goal of the treatment is to develop the overall function of the person and improve their social skills.

Today, there are several treatments available to help people with autism cope up with their daily lives. These include the following:

  • Medication
  • Specialized therapies like speech, occupational, and physical therapy
  • Community support and parent training
  • Behavioral training and management

 

Advancements in Medical Science

Today, experts are considering the use of TMS treating people with autism. Even with limited participants, the use of TMS therapy in treating autism already shows great promise. However, using TMS therapy for patients is not likely to treat the overall condition.

Nonetheless, TMS may help improve certain symptoms associated with the disorder. Although it may sound like small progress, it can help in the most important factors when dealing with autism.

These clinical studies discovered TMS therapy can:

  • Relieve symptoms of irritability
  • lessen repetitive behaviors
  • Improve hand-eye coordination
  • Enhance social skills

Through these studies, researchers are discovering the effectiveness of TMS therapy in treating autism.  TMS as a therapy has fewer risks compared to others and researchers continues to test the method’s boundaries. Today, there are several ongoing studies about the use of TMS therapy and its effect on autism.

Some of the known current studies in TMS therapy are searching for:

  • The overall improvement of autism patients
  • Considering the possible changes in social skills of people with autism
  • Aiming to improve social skills of people with intellectual disability and autism

 

Several studies show that TMS can lessen some symptoms of autism. However, these studies primarily concentrate on TMS therapy and autism on verbal adults. In theory, the younger brain may benefit more from TMS. Hopefully, further studies can back up this theory.

 

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