TMS: an answer for those with both depression and autism?

Moreover, depression in those with autism…

  • “tends to be more severe …”
  • “Is more likely to be refractory to treatment”
  • Can resist the effects of antidepressants, and “antidepressants can make […] autism symptoms worse”

These are the revelations of McLeod Gwynette, Director of the General Psychiatry Clinic at the Medical University of South Carolina.

As reported in April 2020 in EurekAlert!, Gwynette recently led a pilot study which suggests the promise of transcranial magnetic stimulation to treat adults with autism and depression. Their work involved 13 adults aged 18-65 with depression and autism who participated in 25 daily TMS treatments. The results?

  • 70% had a decrease in depressive symptoms
  • 40% experienced remission (a decrease in or disappearance of symptoms)
  • Decreases in repetitive behaviors, hyperactivity and irritability

Notably, “no changes were seen in self-reported autism symptoms”. As is consonant with many testimonials to TMS, “the repetitive TMS treatments were well-tolerated”. Naturally, the study has its limitations. A double-blind trial, where neither the participants nor the experiments would know who is receiving the treatment, would be preferred. This was the conclusion of Oberman et al. in their comprehensive paper “Use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Autism Spectrum Disorders”, published in 2016: “carefully designed and properly controlled clinical trials are warranted to evaluate the true potential of TMS in ASD”.

But the professional consensus is that it provides “early evidence” that TMS is promising for treating adults with autism and depression. Their work is a great encouragement for similar studies.