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Can TMS be Used to Treat Autism?

Can TMS be Used to Treat Autism?

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What is Autism?

Autism, often known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is used to represent several conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. Autism affects 1 in 44 children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control.1

Each autistic person has a unique set of abilities and difficulties because autism is a spectrum condition. Autism can affect a person’s ability to learn, reason, and solve problems in a variety of ways, from well-developed to severely handicapped. Others with ASD may need less care and, in some situations, can live independently. On the other hand, some people with ASD may need a lot of support.2

There are five primary autism spectrum disorders:

  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Rett Syndrome
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
  • Kanner’s Syndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified

The following symptoms may be signs of autism, though it’s crucial to remember that people with autism might not exhibit all or any of the signs or autism symptoms below:3

  • Avoids or breaks eye contact
  • Doesn’t respond to name by nine months
  • Doesn’t display joyful, sad, angry, or astonished facial expressions by nine months
  • Doesn’t engage in simple interactive games like pat-a-cake by 12 months
  • Makes few or no gestures (i.e., does not wave goodbye) at 12 months
  • By 15 months, does not share interests with others (i.e., shows you an object that they like)
  • By 18 months, does not point to show you something intriguing
  • At 24 months, does not recognize when others are harmed or unhappy
  • By 36 months, does not observe or engage in play with other children
  • By four years old, does not pretend to be someone else during play, such as a teacher or a superhero
  • Does not perform for you in song, dance, or acting by five years old
  • Sets toys or other items in a line and becomes irate if the order is changed
  • Repeatedly uses the same words or phrases (called echolalia)
  • Uses the same playstyle with toys every time
  • Is concentrated on object components (for example, wheels)
  • Upset by the slightest changes
  • Possesses obsessive interests
  • Must adhere to specified procedures
  • Flapping hands, rocking the body, or circling oneself
  • Demonstrates unique reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, sights, or feelings
  • Delayed language and motor skills
  • Delayed abilities in learning or thinking
  • Inattentive, impulsive, or hyperactive behavior
  • Seizure or epilepsy disorder
  • Unusual sleeping/eating patterns
  • Digestive disorders
  • Unusual emotions or mood swings
  • Anxiety, tension, excessive worry or the absence of fear, or unexpectedly high levels of fear

Insurance may be able to help cover the cost of therapy. Find out if your insurance provider can help with the costs by filling in our confidential insurance verification form below.

Autism Diagnosis & Treatment

As there is no medical test, such as a blood test, to detect ASD, diagnosis can be challenging. Medical professionals consider the child’s behavior and developmental history alongside psychological and physical evaluations to make a diagnosis. ASD can sometimes be identified at 18 months of age or younger.

While there are numerous autism treatment therapies available, none of them are universal. The goal of autism treatment is to improve your child’s functioning by reducing the symptoms and encouraging development and learning. Early intervention can help your child acquire crucial social, linguistic, practical, and behavioral skills throughout preschool.4

The following are autism therapy options:5

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): ABA can help children learn new skills and transfer those skills to various natural settings using a reward-based motivation approach.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This evidence-based approach aims to understand how ideas, feelings, and behaviors are connected. In CBT, the patient and therapist jointly decide on goals before the patient changes how they think about a situation to alter their reaction.
  • Speech and Language Therapy: This is the most common developmental therapy for people with autism. A person’s comprehension and use of speech and language are both improved by speech and language therapy.
  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT): This systematic ABA technique divides abilities into manageable, “discrete” parts. The trainer imparts these skills, using observable reinforcements for desirable behavior. For example, this might be a candy bar for a child.
  • Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy imparts knowledge and abilities to assist the patient in living as independently as possible. Dressing, eating, showering, and interacting with others are examples of skill development. Occupational therapy may also include:
  • Sensory Integration Therapy: aids in enhancing reactions to potentially constricting or overpowering sensory input
    • Physical Therapy: aids in developing physical abilities, including greater body and trunk movements or finger movements
  • Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH): The TEACCH educational approach is based on the notion that consistency and visual learning benefit individuals with autism. It allows teachers to change the classroom setup to enhance academic and other results.
  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT):6 PRT is a behavior therapy. The child is the one who starts this play-based treatment based on the principles of ABA.
  • Medication: The primary indications and symptoms of autism cannot be managed by medication. Co-occurring symptoms, however, may be responsive to medication, which can enhance an autistic patient’s general functioning. Medication can also treat co-occurring psychological symptoms like anxiety or depression and physiological concerns like seizures, sleep disorders, and gastrointestinal (GI) problems.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS):7 TMS therapy for autism is a non-invasive procedure that stimulates the cells in parts of the brain by delivering electromagnetic pulses using an electromagnetic coil. These pulses can control brain activity in specific regions, potentially returning them to normal. Restoring the stability and balance in the brain helps reduce symptoms associated with the condition.

TMS Treatment for Autism

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS, is a non-invasive alternative therapy that uses electromagnetic fields to activate brain regions that aren’t functioning well. A small coil is positioned over the head throughout the treatment. Without obstructing the scalp and bone, the magnetic field produced by the coil’s electric current can influence the activity of the nerve cells. In addition, the magnetic pulses’ position, magnitude, and frequency affect the magnetic stimulation.8

The initial TMS treatment for autism typically lasts sixty minutes. First, your child will be led to a treatment area, instructed to sit in a recliner, and given earplugs to wear throughout the process. Next, the TMS psychiatrist must determine where to place the magnets on your child’s head and how much magnetic energy is appropriate.

Your child’s head will be pressed against an electromagnetic coil frequently turned on and off, creating stimulating pulses. This causes a tapping or clicking sound for a short period before pausing. The tapping feeling will also be felt on the forehead, a procedure known as mapping.

The doctor will gradually increase the magnetic dose until your child’s fingers or hands begin twitching to calculate the necessary amount of magnetic energy. This is referred to as the motor threshold and serves as a benchmark for finding the appropriate dose. Depending on symptoms or adverse effects, the brain stimulation level can be adjusted throughout autism TMS treatment.9

Most experts advise scheduling 30 sessions over six weeks, with the ideal sessions lasting between 30 and 40 minutes. Between two to four weeks of the start of treatment, patients typically feel an improvement.10

Neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are released by brain cells when the currents are activated. So it’s unsurprising that experts believe there is hope for ASD therapy because people with autism may have low brain serotonin concentrations.11

TMS therapy for autism has been proven to stimulate numerous brain areas responsible for the primary symptoms of autism in recent investigations and controlled clinical trials.12 Among these brain areas are the prefrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, and parietal cortex.

By targeting these specific brain regions, TMS for autism can:

  • Decrease the repetition of actions
  • Deal with irritation or depressive signs
  • Enhance motor performance
  • Address attention deficits
  • Address additional ASD symptoms, including a lack of appetite or sleep

Benefits of TMS include:

  • High success rate in symptom reduction for autism
  • Non-invasive: The entire course of treatment takes place outside of the body
  • Non-sedative: It doesn’t require medication and causes little discomfort
  • Little to no adverse side effects: Most people experience no negative effects

Additionally, according to one study, children who underwent TMS for autism significantly improved social and language-related symptoms. The study also showed that caregivers noticed gains in cognition and imitation.13

Furthermore, TMS helped lower depressive symptoms and had some benefits on autistic symptoms in a pilot study of adults with autism and depression, according to research from the Medical University of South Carolina.14

To fully understand the therapeutic nature of TMS for autism, especially in children, further trials are being conducted based on preliminary findings from randomized pilot studies.15

When Should TMS be Used to Treat Autism?

Alternative treatments, like TMS for autism, are usually used when patients do not respond to conventional therapies, like psychotherapy and medication. Although TMS has FDA approval, this approval is solely for adults (between the ages of 18 and 70) and is only for treating major depressive disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that have not responded to conventional treatments. As a result, TMS therapy for autism is considered “off-label.”

TMS can be a safe, non-invasive, and successful treatment for autism. However, researchers must conduct more extensive, controlled studies to determine how well TMS treats autism, especially in children. Additional autism research is urgently needed to assess TMS’s effectiveness and long-term responses.

How Will I Know TMS Treatment for Autism is Working?

When it comes to TMS for autism, treatment does require a time commitment. Some individuals won’t see any changes until many weeks following treatment. For example, you may notice your child sleeping better and communicating more effectively. On the other hand, it’s possible that some patients won’t see any changes at all.

Are There any Side Effects or Risks of Using TMS for Autism?

According to research, most TMS side effects are mild to moderate, if they occur at all. However, they may consist of the following:16

  • Headaches (most common)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Scalp pain
  • Neck pain
  • Tingling
  • Face twitching
  • Sleepiness
  • Altered state of mind during treatment
  • Seizures (most rare)17

There is no evidence that TMS can make the symptoms of autism worse.

Who Should Avoid TMS for Autism Treatment?

People with certain medical implants should avoid TMS therapy for autism. Metal implants or gadgets that interact with magnetic fields can cause complications. In addition, you may not be eligible for TMS if you have stents, implanted stimulators, a pacemaker, a medicine pump, cochlear implants, or gunshot fragments in your body. Metal in areas that exceed 10cm from the head is mostly acceptable.18 Additionally, people with certain medical issues, like a history of seizures and bipolar disorder, should avoid TMS for autism. Those who are pregnant should also avoid TMS autism treatment.

Finally, inform your TMS administrator about any prescription or over-the-counter medications, supplements, or vitamins you or your child are taking. Certain drug combinations can cause serious complications. Discussing the above concerns with your doctor before autism TMS treatment is critical.

Cost & Insurance Coverage for TMS for Autism

The following are average costs for TMS therapy for autism. These costs may vary by location and other factors. Therefore, they may not reflect the actual cost of TMS treatment for autism or what you may pay in Tennessee.

Because TMS for autism is not FDA-approved and considered “off-label,” many insurance companies will not provide coverage. TMS treatment typically costs between $400 and $500 per session.19 The overall may be around $15,000 because most patients require numerous sessions to reach desired results.

Athena Care has multiple transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment centers in Tennessee. We are also in-network with most major insurance plans. Therefore, filling out our free and confidential online insurance verification form is the best way to obtain all the information needed to begin TMS treatment for autism.

Allow our highly experienced, knowledgeable care coordinators to handle the challenges of contacting your insurance carrier for more information about your coverage for TMS therapy. After submitting the no-obligation form, a care coordinator will review your policy and explain your options. Any information you provide or discuss will remain confidential.


  1. “Data and Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Jan. 2023, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.
  2. “What Is Autism? | Autism Speaks.” Autism Speaks, www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism. Accessed 16 Mar. 2023.
  3. “Signs and Symptoms | Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) | NCBDDD | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Mar. 2022, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html.
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Autism Spectrum Disorder: Diagnosis.” Mayo Clinic, 6 Jan. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352934.
  5. “Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 Mar. 2022, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html.
  6. “Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT).” Autism Speaks, www.autismspeaks.org/pivotal-response-treatment-prt-0. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.
  7. “TMS Therapy for PTSD | Success TMS Depression Treatment.” Success TMS, 2 Mar. 2020, successtms.com/tms-for-ptsd.
  8. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for the Treatment of Adults with PTSD, GAD, or Depression: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines. Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, 31 October 2014.
  9. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation – Mayo Clinic. 27 Nov. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/transcranial-magnetic-stimulation/about/pac-20384625.
  10. Llb, Yolande Loftus Ba. “TMS Treatment for Autism: What Is It and Does It Work?” Autism Parenting Magazine, 18 June 2021, www.autismparentingmagazine.com/autism-tms-treatment.
  11. Adamsen, Dea, et al. “Autism Spectrum Disorder Associated With Low Serotonin in CSF and Mutations in the SLC29A4 Plasma Membrane Monoamine Transporter (PMAT) Gene.” Molecular Autism, vol. 5, no. 1, BioMed Central, Aug. 2014, https://doi.org/10.1186/2040-2392-5-43.
  12. Oberman, Lindsay M., et al. “Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Challenges, Promise, and Roadmap for Future Research.” Autism Research, vol. 9, no. 2, Wiley-Blackwell, Feb. 2016, pp. 184–203. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.1567.
  13. Yang, Yingxue, et al. “High-Frequency Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Applied to the Parietal Cortex for Low-Functioning Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Case Series.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, vol. 10, Frontiers Media, May 2019, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00293.
  14. Gwynette, McLeod F., et al. “Treatment of Adults With Autism and Major Depressive Disorder Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: An Open Label Pilot Study.” Autism Research, vol. 13, no. 3, Wiley-Blackwell, Jan. 2020, pp. 346–51. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.2266.
  15. Eshraghi, AdrienA, et al. “Recent Advancements in Noninvasive Brain Modulation for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Neural Regeneration Research, vol. 18, no. 6, Medknow, Jan. 2023, p. 1191. https://doi.org/10.4103/1673-5374.360163.
  16. Nunez, Kirsten. “What You Need to Know About Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy.” Healthline, 20 Jan. 2021, www.healthline.com/health/tms-therapy.
  17. Janicak, Philip G, and Mehmet E Dokucu. “Transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of major depression.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment vol. 11 1549-60. 26 Jun. 2015, doi:10.2147/NDT.S67477
  18. Israel, Lindsay. “TMS Therapy: Potential Side Effects and Risks of TMS | (2022).” Success TMS, 13 Jan. 2022, successtms.com/blog/tms-risks.
  19. Porter, Robert. “What Does TMS Therapy Cost? TMS Information | BetterHelp Advice.” Betterhelp, BetterHelp, 20 Apr. 2022, www.betterhelp.com/advice/therapy/how-much-does-tms-therapy-cost.

If you suspect that you or someone you love suffers from mental health disorders, contact Athena Care today.

One of our friendly associates will help you get the help you need. Take this first step to feel better and take control. 

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