Caveat Emptor: TMS as Snake Oil

On the eve of my next visit to the TMS Lab at Beth Israel in Boston*, I came upon this blog post:



I’ve added a comment to that post, so won’t repeat myself here, but I did want to point out the very valid caveats they list. They talk about a clinic that is offering TMS as a “treatment” for autism, and why this smells of snake oil.

I wonder if I will live long enough (I hope so!) to see an end to the search for a “cure” for autism and the beginning of a genuine effort to figure out how to help autistic people fit into a non-autistic world, and to be accepted for who we are.


* formally, theĀ Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth IsraelĀ Deaconess Medical Center


  1. By coincidence, this article appeared on the NYT Wellness Blog yesterday, talking about FDA approval of TMS for treatment of depression (not autism!).

    • Sue Loring on July 2, 2013 at 9:05 AM
    • Reply

    Could it be that the beneficial effects of TMS have more to do withpossible
    underlying depression than ASD? Many folks walk about with symptoms of depression without realizing it, I’m thinking it could be similar to the beneficial effects of GFCF diets seen in some kids with ASD- Eliminating gastro pain improved overall affect and functioning .

    1. Good points, Sue. It is often hard to separate what is autism and what is something else, and I think “autism” gets blamed for a lot of things that are not directly related. Which is not to say that such things as auto-immune conditions are not more common in autistic people. That may be true, but there is still no direct linkage.

      So, yes, I think you could be right. On the other hand, people who know far more than I about the topic tell me that there is some evidence that even very young autistic children show higher than normal levels of brain chemicals associated with depression. Which suggests that there may be a linkage. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t treat it with medication (or perhaps TMS).

      In my case, for example, I started taking a fairly frequent dose of an anti-anxiety drug a few years back. It reduced my tendency to have outbursts and meltdowns. As I experienced what it was like to avoid/evade those triggers, I learned how to do it on my own, and today I no longer take the medication.

      Behavior is a complex thing (brilliant insight #479), isn’t it? Are we depressed and anxious because of low self-esteem from being told we do things wrong? Or were we born that way? And, in the end, does it really matter? The cure may be the same. Some medication or other therapies/diet changes if they are helpful, accompanied by CBT or other mindfulness techniques/therapies. All of this won’t get rid of the autism (neither possible nor desirable) but it sure can make life a whole lot more pleasant.

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