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:
- 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.