Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term for a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized in various degrees, by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.
In the U.S., about 1 in 88 children are on the autism spectrum. Boys are around four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism with 1 in 54 boys diagnosed compared to 1 in 252 girls.
The presence of autism is linked to a part of the brain called the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), which is under-stimulated in those with ASD. This part of the brain is important for social interaction because it’s responsible for a bunch of human emotions.
Recently, scientists have been conducting studies to test a process called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). This delivers electric magnetic pulses through the scalp to the dmPFC.
After a month of this treatment, all participants in the study showed significant improvements in social skills, with reduced anxiety, compared to the placebo group who showed no added effects.
Currently, this research is in its very early stages. The biggest challenge is the limitations of rTMS. The dmPFC is not near the surface of the brain, so it’s hard to target it with high accuracy. More research is needed but by targeting the area of the brain that is associated with autism, scientists have come closer to accelerating treatment for the disorder and have also found where the technology can be improved.