TMS Helps Aspie Experience the World in a New Way

Expand your frame of reference and see the world in a new way Recently, Alix Speigel hosted a fascinating story on NPR’s podcast, Invisibilia. It revealed the story of Kim who, “until she was 54 years old, was totally unaware that there were things in the world she couldn’t see.”Throughout her life, nothing happened in the way she expected and she hadn’t a clue as to why that was. It seemed to her that people said and did things that were completely unrelated. It didn’t make sense to her. You see she has Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes a person unable to pick up on social cues or the nuanced emotional meanings that most people can easily see.

Then Kim was given an opportunity to see what others see. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston were investigating how a procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) affected the brains of people with Asperger’s. An electromagnetic coil is placed next to the scalp and rhythmically sends 30-minutes magnetic pulses through the skull in order to stimulate brain cells.

After undergoing this treatment, Kim felt deeper emotions for the first time in her life. As she read different statements, she was able to see the larger context of situations alluded to and was able to see the true meanings attached to them. She explained it was like going from “black and white to color”.

While the effects didn’t last long, it made her aware of a different way of experiencing the world. Where she once thought she was better than others, she now saw that she was simply different, and not necessarily in a good way. She felt hopelessly depressed, so she begged for another session of TMS.

During the next session, instead of reading, she watched short videos as the magnet did its work. Once again her perception was drastically different before and after the treatment. Where once she saw nothing out of the ordinary, she now saw the nuances of the body language, the subtly of conversation and she actually understood sarcasm. It amazed her! Once again her results were short lived, but this time it left her with a greater understanding of herself and the world around her – without the depression and self-doubt that happened the first time.

Researchers don’t understand why a few like Kim respond so well to TMS and others don’t. At this time, the FDA approves TMS as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression, but not for autism. They’ve found that it slightly increases the risk of seizures in those who have epilepsy. Since the research into TMS is still in its infancy, I’m anxious to see what they eventually discover.

Kim’s story reminds us of an important truth. Whether we have Asperger’s or not, we all function within a confined frame of reference based on our biology and experiences in life. The good news is that this frame of reference can be shifted and expanded. Although I don’t offer TMS, I can help in expanding your frame of reference so you can achieve better relationships and greater self-understanding, and if you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Be sure to click on this link and read the NPR show notes or listen to the podcast.

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