Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Magnetic brain stimulation and autism

If this account is true, it's simply amazing.
NY Magazine: What It’s Like to ‘Wake Up’ From Autism After Magnetic Stimulation

... Though he wasn’t diagnosed with autism until he was 40, John Elder Robison felt isolated and disconnected throughout his entire youth and early adulthood. But in 2008, at 50, he took part in what became a three-year research project looking at brain function in individuals with autism spectrum disorders and exploring the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to help them.

TMS is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. During treatment, a coil is placed against the patient’s scalp and the TMS energy passes through the skull into the outermost layer of the brain. ...

The treatment left Robison momentarily crippled by the weight of other people’s feelings, and he spoke with Science of Us about his experience, which he also discusses in his recently released book, Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening. ...

Do you understand now what was happening?
TMS modified my emotional response to what you might call ordinary situations. I often put it this way: You might be crossing the street and you fall and you skin your knee. I’d say, “Come on, get up!” The very best advice I could give is come on, get going, this car could run you over. People would see my practical response as cold and emotionless. After TMS, I’d look at you and wince at your skinned knee. I never did that before. And I now realize that wincing at your skinned knee is the response most people have. I still have the autistic response, but I’m also aware of what you might now call the “empathetic response from personal experience.” People can tell you about something a million times, and it won’t mean anything to you until you experience it. That said, it’s important to understand that I always had the ability to feel your pain. Like, if you were my girlfriend and you got sick I’d be more worried about you than your own mother. I was always that way. But no matter how much I cared about you, if we were crossing the street, you fell down and skinned your knee, I would see your skinned knee and I would say “Come on, we gotta get going,” or I would say, “Here, I’ll get you a Band-Aid.” I would have a practical response. The way I responded is no reflection on how much I cared for you. I could care for you with all the love in the world and still I’d respond practically.

So you don’t feel you’d really lacked empathy before?
No. In fact, studies have shown that autistic people feel things more deeply, not less at all. It’s true that autism is described as a condition with communication impairment. And so, to be diagnosed with autism, you must have an impaired ability to speak, to understand speech, or to understand or convey unspoken cues.

So what exactly happened when you first stated noticing emotional cues?
It hit me all at once with an intensity that was absolutely scary. As I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep, the world started revolving. I became afraid I was having a stroke. I’d close my eyes and the world would spin like I was drunk, about to throw up. I don’t drink or do drugs. So for me to have the world spinning like that made me think there was something terribly wrong. And not only was the world spinning, I would close my eyes and I would have these really vivid, half-awake, half-asleep dreams that were a collage of things from the past and things that had just happened that day and they were just so real. The experience was so unsettling that I woke up and wrote a 1,500-word missive to the scientists describing what had happened. Then, finally, I was able to fall asleep.

The next day at work I looked at one of my colleagues and I thought to myself: He has the most beautiful brown eyes. That’s the type of thought I simply do not have. I don’t usually have any comment on your eyes because I don’t look in anyone’s eyes. For me to look in your eyes and say that they are beautiful is totally out of character. When I got to work I walked into the waiting room, as I usually do, and I looked at everyone and there was this flood of emotion. I could see it all: They were scared and anxious and eager, and never in my life had I seen something like that. I had to step out of the room because I didn’t know how to cope. It felt like ESP. Maybe in the past I used the logical part of my brain to look at people around me and carefully analyze. I figured out situations using logic. So I had that powerful ability but now the screen of emotion was turned on, too. ...

No comments:

Blog Archive