+ Possible Promise in New Autism Research

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The University of Louisville announced research results: when a low-frequency magnetic field was pulsed around the brains of people with autism, the patients later experienced less severe symptoms.

One in 150 children is diagnosed with autism each year, and rates of diagnosis have increased sharply over the last two decades, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The UofL treatment is called “transcranial magnetic stimulation.”  Still in the early testing stages, it may have potential to become an effective treatment for major symptoms of autism, says neuroscientist Manuel Casanova.

Members of the research team placed a coil on the scalps of ten people with autism, to create a low-frequency magnetic field, which they then pulsed by reversing the field’s polarity.  After receiving a 20-minute treatment twice a week for five weeks, patients showed fewer symptoms of hyperactivity, sensory overload and repetitive behaviors, according to project collaborator Lonnie Sears.

The team assessed symptoms before and after the treatment by measuring patients’ brain activity and their scores on standard neurological and psychological tests.

Casanova has previously demonstrated that structural differences between autistic and normal brains contribute to the symptoms of autism, which include sensory, social and communication problems that limit the patients’ ability to function independently.

“Our results are preliminary,” he stresses, “but they show a great deal of promise in reducing the severity of symptoms that people with autism find the most distressing and, as a result, helping them communicate and relate better — something that most of us take for granted.”

In addition, the team found that treatment did not affect areas of “giftedness” in the test group.

“This is important,” says Casanova, “because, despite communication and social problems, some people with autism are very gifted in specific areas of intelligence.”

 source: article in the University of Louisville Newspaper on 4/9/08.  http://php.louisville.edu

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