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Cutting-edge Autism Therapy May Lessen Problem Behaviors

By Shana R. Spindler, PhD on May 10, 2016


Background: Have you ever wondered what controls your heart rate? The autonomic nervous system controls all non-voluntary movements in your body, like the beating of your heart and contractions of your stomach and intestines. In some individuals with autism, the autonomic nervous system doesn’t work properly. This may lead to a less intense response to social stimuli. Some researchers believe that activating the autonomic nervous system may help individuals with autism respond to social cues in a more typical way.


What’s new: A cutting-edge procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may help children with autism lessen hyperactivity, inappropriate speech, and repetitive behaviors by adjusting their autonomic nervous system activity, according to a study published March, 2016. The researchers used repetitive magnetic fields to excite neurons in a part of the brain behind the forehead in 33 children with autism. The children each participated in 12 weekly sessions of TMS. During the treatment, the childrens’ autonomic nervous system measurements improved, and following treatment, several behavior scores got better.


Why it’s important: Compared to previous studies of TMS, this study increased the number of children treated and allowed children from all severities of the autism spectrum. The positive results of the study lead the way for researchers to create randomized, controlled clinical trials to test if TMS treatments work better than other therapies.

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