TMS for Autism

Autism has been on the rise in the US for many decades. It affects around 2% of the US, and treatment options have been limited. TMS could be a breakthrough.

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Article Contents

What is Autism?

Before exploring the impact of TMS for autism, one must fully understand what autism is. Autism spectrum disorder includes a range of conditions that are “characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.” 1 

Around one out of every fifty-four children in the US have autism. Autism’s effects can vary greatly for each individual who has it, meaning some people with this issue live independently while others may require significant support 24/7.  

Genetic 

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, several family studies suggest that some people might have a genetic predisposition to autism. Multiple genes have been linked to the development of autism. Some studies believe that autism could develop due to “disruptions in normal brain growth very early in development” which could be caused by “defects in genes that control brain development and regulate how brain cells communicate with each other.” 2    

Environmental Factors

There are a few environmental factors as well. All of the events have been linked to things that happen while the child is in the womb or during the birth process. They are as follows: 3    

  • Prenatal exposure to toxins in the air or specific pesticides 
  • Premature birth or extremely low birth weight 
  • Advanced parental age at conception 
  • Maternal diabetes, obesity, or immune system disorders 
  • Birth difficulties that lead to oxygen deprivation for the baby 

Causes of Autism

Autism can be caused by genetics and/or environmental factors that happen during pregnancy or the birthing process. Air pollutants and viral infections can also lead to the development of autism. However, what exactly causes autism is still widely debated among scientists. 

Screening Autism

There is no specific test that is used to diagnose autism. The process usually starts around eighteen months, and a diagnosis becomes very reliable by around the age of two if done by a certified doctor. This process involves the doctor looking over the child’s behaviors and developmental history. 4

Signs of Autism

Multiple different signs can indicate that your child might have autism. Because it is a spectrum disorder, these symptoms could vary in intensity and prevalence.    

Behaviors

One big thing that parents will notice among their children is specific behaviors or interests that seem unusual. The CDC calls these restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. Some of them are: 5

  • Organize toys in a specific way, and they become upset when that order is changed
  • Uses specific words or phrases repeatedly 
  • Plays the same way every time they use a toy 
  • Intense focus on specific parts of different toys or objects 
  • Easily becomes upset by small changes 
  • Obsessive interests 
  • Has strong, unusual reactions to different senses 
  • Needs to follow specific routines 
  • Rocks their body, spins themself in circles, or flaps their hands   

Self-Injury

Many times, a change in order or routine might lead to a strong reaction from a child. The change could lead to them hitting themselves, reacting violently, or screaming. It is very important that a parent monitors this behavior and works with their pediatrician for guidance. 

Communication

According to the CDC, many autism symptoms will be communication-based. Some of these are: 5 

  • Avoids eye contact 
  • Doesn’t respond to their name by nine months old 
  • Doesn’t show facial expressions by nine months old 
  • Doesn’t play interactive games by a year old 
  • Uses no or minimal amounts of gestures 
  • Struggles with sharing their interests with others 
  • Little interests in friends 
  • Doesn’t play pretend 
  • Doesn’t show sympathy or empathy/recognize when others are hurt, sad, or angry by two years old   

Signs in Adults and Teens

Although autism is normally diagnosed in early childhood, many times it goes undiagnosed. This factor is especially true for individuals that are functional and independent. Some potential signs of autism in an adult or teenager are as follows: 6 

  • Social anxiety 
  • Difficulties with empathy 
  • Struggles understanding gestures, facial expressions, body language, and social innuendos 
  • Troubles making conversation 
  • Difficulties practicing socially appropriate behavior 
  • Interprets information too literally 
  • Struggles with eye contact 
  • Difficulties forming or maintaining relationships 
  • Obsession with rigid routines 
  • Difficulties thinking about the future 
  • Restricted mental flexibility  

Management for Autism

Once a child becomes diagnosed with autism, the family and the child need to start learning how to manage it. There is not a cure, and due to its variety, there is not a singular treatment path. Several different factors can help make sure that your child and family are successful when management ASD. 

Education

Education, both learning about the disorder and the educational setting, is very important when it comes to finding success. People with autism tend to do better in highly structured educational programs. Having a team of specialists will help them improve their social skills, behavior, and communication. Individualized, intensive behavioral interventions normally have a lot of success for children.  

Medication

There is not a specific medication that will improve the main signs of autism. However, there are a few medications that can help improve symptoms. There might be specific medications to help with the following symptoms:

  • Medicine to help with hyperactivity. 
  • Antipsychotic drugs for severe behavior issues. 
  • Antidepressants for depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. 

 

Alternative Medicine

Therapy is also a significant benefit when it comes to helping a child manage autism. Behavior and communication therapy can teach the child new skills and how to handle specific situations. Family therapy can also help the family learn how to interact with the child.

There are also some other forms of alternative medicine such as creative therapies such as music or art-based therapy. Massages, pet/horse therapy, and sensory-based therapies are all things that have been used as alternative medicines and methods to help a child with autism succeed.   

TMS for Autism

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is effective when it comes to reducing depressive symptoms and other signs of autism. This new form of treatment has been used to help with a lot of different mental health disorders and other things. Its success with helping patients with autism could be a big  breakthrough when it comes to treatment. 7

What is TMS?

According to Mayo Clinic, TMS “is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression.” 8 It is normally used as a last resort treatment if other things have not been effective. There are a few different parts of TMS.

EEG Evaluation
Electroencephalography (EEG) is a tool that is used to probe different brain circuits non-invasively. It has allowed for a lot more excitability and connectivity, and it has led to many successes. TMS-EEG has had many successes, leading to potential clinical uses and benefits for more patients.

Magnetic Pulses
During TMS, specialists will place an electromagnetic coil against the patient’s head. It will then send out magnetic pulses to help painlessly stimulate the brain. They do this in hopes that it will improve the patient’s mood and ease depression. 8  

RTMS
Repetitive TMS (rTMS) sessions are a series of treatments that involve putting an electromagnetic coil against the patient’s scalp. The magnet will then deliver a magnetic pulse that stimulates the nerve cells in the parts of their brain that manages emotions. The goal of these sessions is to activate parts of the brain that have decreased activity due to  depression. 8       

What to Expect in TMS therapy?

TMS will always be administered by a certified TMS physician. They will place the electromagnetic coil against your head, which has a similar strength to an MRI machine. Make sure to remove any magnetic object from your body, including things like credit cards.

During the first session, medical professionals will adjust the treatment to you as an individual. While testing, your fingers and hands might twitch slightly, so do not be alarmed if this happens. They will then continue to target different parts of the brain that are linked to depression or different symptoms of autism. 9   

How Long Is this Therapy?

Each session normally is under an hour. It will normally take place five days a week for about four to six weeks. This factor could vary depending on the person. You can stop treatment during a session if needed.   

How to Prepare for TMS?

When preparing for TMS, it is critical to be transparent with your doctor. Let them know if you are pregnant, on any medication, have multiple mental health disorders, or if you have any other medical conditions. If you have any metal inside of your body, it would be important to let the doctor know as well.

Physical Exam
Your doctor might perform a physical exam to make sure that your body will be able to handle TMS. They might look for any pre-existing conditions that could cause serious issues or lessen the impact of TMS therapy. Some symptoms of TMS can be headaches, hearing problems, facial twitches, discomfort in the head, and seizures in rare cases.

Psychiatric Evaluation
Because of the seriousness and intensity of the treatment, your doctor will perform a psychiatric evaluation to make sure that you can handle the treatment. They might also look for other mental health disorders to potentially target during the treatment process. 

Who Administers TMS?

TMS is administered by a certified physician. You will be awake during the treatment, so there won’t be a need for anesthesia. Your treatment will also be monitored by the physician or administering technician. 

Benefits of TMS Therapy

Although it is not the preferred first option method by many doctors, there are several different ways that TMS helps people. 10    

Structural

TMS is very individualized and focused on helping the patient. Although there is a lot of overlap between treatments, the doctor focuses on what works best for the patient. Unlike things like prescription drugs, the treatment will be more focused on helping out every unique individual and their specific health issues. 

Physiological

TMS therapy does not negatively impact your physiological health. It can help your body function normally due to the stimulating effects of the treatment. It can have a more profound impact on your life because it will reduce the negative side effects of depression and other autism symptoms, helping your daily routine and life. 

High Success Rate

Between 40-60% of people show big positive changes regarding depression after going through TMS therapy. This success rate also covers other symptoms of autism and other disorders. 11  

Non-Invasive

The treatment doesn’t require medication or surgery. Instead, it can be done painlessly without invading the body. 

No Side Effects

There are very limited side effects that are quite rare for patients. Besides a potential migraine, there are little to no side effects, especially when compared to other medications that are used. 

Non-Drug

TMS treatment requires no drugs or chemicals, making it a great alternate to medications. 

FDA Cleared

It is FDA-approved, meaning that it is a safe treatment that can be used to help with several neurological disorders.

Covered by Most Insurance  
Many insurance companies cover treatments for mental health disorders and autism. Therefore, most insurance companies will cover TMS because of that. It should be cost-effective when looking at treatment options.

Zero Downtime
Finally, you don’t have to worry about it taking long periods. For an hour a day for a few weeks, you should be able to see significant results. 

Outlook

TMS therapy for autism is very beneficial. Although it is newer to the field of treating autism directly, there has been a lot of success. There is no cure for autism, but TMS therapy is a non-invasive therapy that can help with the patient’s daily routine and life. 

  1. https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism 
  2. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Autism-Spectrum-Disorder-Fact-Sheet
  3. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/autism/index.cfm
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html
  6. https://autismsciencefoundation.org/what-is-autism/early-signs-of-autism/signs-and-resources-for-adolescents-and-adults/
  7. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20200407/TMS-shows-promise-as-treatment-for-adults-with-both-depression-and-autism.aspx
  8. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/transcranial-magnetic-stimulation/about/pac-20384625
  9. https://www.mytransformations.com/post/what-to-expect-during-tms-therapy
  10. https://achievetmseast.com/benefits-of-tms-treatment/
  11. https://www.tmsbrainhealth.com/the-real-pros-and-cons-of-tms-therapy/

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