Home Treatment Neurostimulation Devices and Autism
A 12-year-old kid, Will Robeson, who has autism, walks into the neuroscience lab at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, and greets every staff member with familiarity. He sits on a black leather, dentist-looking recliner, which is positioned beside a suitcase-shaped equipment, with power supply and controls. A piece of plastic hangs above his head, containing a coil that is capable of generating a powerful magnetic field.
The autistic kid is preparing to undergo TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation, which will alter temporarily the electrical activity of his brain, which he had already done over 40 times in a course of four years. TMS’ goal is to retune the manner his brain cells communicate so he can connect better to the world.
Both the kid and the scientist, Estate Sokhadz, who manipulates expertly the controls, have developed a comfortable routine. First, Sokhadze puts electrodes on Will’s hands to gauge his pulse and breathing to ensure everything is okay. Next, he places a blue swim cap over his head to see better the outlines of the kid’s cranium. Sokhadze, picking up the coil, holds it above Will’s head. While the machine starts emitting loud clicks, Will shuts his eyes and counts along with each click till he reaches twenty and the clicks cease.
After repeating this process many additional times, Sokhadze moves the coil to the right side. Will asks his grandmother to count with him this time.
Even though the procedure appears as if it may be overpowering, Will remarks: “It feels happy.” By this point, the regular treatment seemed to have slowly eased a few of his autistic symptoms.
When Will initially visited the lab at age 8, he demonstrated a limited vocabulary, flapped repeatedly his arms, and was even scared to ride in the building’s elevators. His grandfather, Tom Robeson, says: “For all practical purposes, he was in a sort of fog.” Tom together with his wife Nancy takes Will to the sessions.
Will came each week for a period of 18 weeks to receive TMS as a treatment for autism. Later, Will has returned regularly for booster sessions. According to the clinical evaluations, these treatments have alleviated slightly Will’s repetitive behaviors and hyperactivity. Despite the fact that Will yet can’t maintain a meaningful conversation, his grandparents say he has grown far more interested in other people and can control his behavior better at school.
Tom says: “It calmed him. I think the TMS did begin his journey into the real world.”
Although the signs of progress have fostered hopes that TMS may become a genuine and regular treatment for autism, evidence for TMS’ effectiveness is yet rather scanty.