Neuromodulation and Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder: Part I Introduction

Many people have philosophized about the existence of a universal language, a common denominator that can be understood by all people and, even more so, by all living things. Some people ascribe such features to either art or mathematics. I prefer to think that our common language is that of frequencies. In essence, human beings think, communicate and express behaviors as a result of frequencies generated within our brains.

If you think of the brain as a black box and make measurements of the same trying to figure out what is inside, you will be able to detect intelligence in recordings of voltage over time.  You can record this measurement by using an oscilloscope or a more specialized piece of equipment called an electroencephalogram (EEG).  The recording obtained by these electronic pieces of equipment will reveal the presence of frequencies that vary according to recording site, behavioral state, and environmental conditions.  Low frequencies are seen in deep sleep and higher frequencies in states of alertness or intense concentration.

These brainwave frequencies are difficult to detect as they are of small magnitude. Those of you who have ever tried “tasting” a 9 V battery with your tongue will remember its salty sensation. Such a voltage produced a tingling but not uncomfortable reaction. The brain produces a voltage orders of magnitude smaller (x10-6).  It is so small that it has to be magnified millions of times in order to be recorded. Another characteristic of brainwave frequencies are their vulnerability or influence by outside sources.

The brain is encased by a skull which throughout evolutionary times has served as a way of protecting it from physical trauma. Unfortunately, the bony encasing does little to protect the brain from electromagnetic radiation (EMR). In electronics, a grounded Faraday cage protects its contents from environmental electromagnetic radiation.  Without a Faraday cage encasing the brain an EEG machine will probably amplify brain waves along with other physical and environmental sources of EMF. This artifact is similar to the interference captured in older antenna TVs and radios.

Voltage frequencies make the brain similar to other communication devices like the radio, TV or your cellular phone. More information is transmitted with higher frequencies and a broader bandwidth (i.e., the span of frequency allotted to transmitting information). In this regard radio, which is limited to transmitting audio information, uses lower frequencies and a smaller bandwidth than color TV which transmits a higher degree of information (audio, visual and color).  In the brain the lowest frequencies are called delta and the highest ones (and those having the largest broadband) are called gamma.

The brain uses gamma frequencies when it oversees coordinating different aspects of cognition.  These are the so-called executive or supervisory function that control our behavior. These functions include attentional control, working memory, theory of mind, and even cognitive flexibility. Many of these functions appear affected in ASD and have been postulated to represent central deficits that explain cognitive abnormalities but may themselves cascade into abnormalities of social interaction and communication.

Neuromodulation is an attempt to alter some of the characteristics of brain frequencies. In autism close to two thirds of individual have brainwave abnormalities in their EEG recordings.  Many of these abnormalities are related to a hyperexcitability of the cerebral cortex that predisposes affected individuals towards seizures. However, there are many other abnormalities present in a majority or all autistic individuals (those with proven diagnoses) when the brain is challenged in one way or another. In future blogs we will talk about some of the techniques used to correct these brainwave abnormalities.

6 responses to “Neuromodulation and Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder: Part I Introduction

  1. I’ll be interested in reading your future blog posts. However, I have one question. I’m wondering if these frequencies are emitted by non-neuronal cells, e.g. microglia and astrocytes which don’t have action potentials. If not, certain neuromodulations, such as TMS would not directly affect these cells since they don’t have action potentials. Isn’t the electric activity in the brain just a measurement of action potentials that are going on? or maybe they measure non-neuronal cells as well. There are far more glial cells than neuronal cells in the brain and donna werling is a geneticist who has shown evidence of de novo mutations in autism that affect glial cells if i am understanding her research correctly. I guess it’s possible that TMS could indirectly influence glial cells through it’s affect on neurons, or perhaps there are other types of neuromodulations that do influence glial cells.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The EEG frequencies that are recorded by scalp electrodes (EEG) are the result of summated dipole potentials provided by apical dendritic bundles of pyramidal cells. Glia cells do not contribute to the same.


  2. I didnt think so, that might make it more difficult to study glial cells and influence them by neuromodulation, but i guess i should wait until i’ve read your follow-up posts.


  3. I was a software engineer when my son was diagnosed as autistic. My view of the brain therefore was of interacting circuits. My son was hypersensitive to sounds. Pictures of brainstem auditory system damage (in the October 1969 issue of Scientific American) seemed a likely explanation for his hearing and speech problems.

    Brain maturation continues during the first decade of life, guided by trophic neurotransmitters produced in brainstem circuits. Brainstem damage cannot be dismissed as “minimal” nor should “neuroplasticity” be counted on to repair disconnections in any subcortical circuit. Is mini-column pathology in the cerebral cortex possibly the result of post-natal disruption of maturation?

    Language is the most serious disability of autistic children. A book by cochlear implant surgeon Dana Suskind suggests the most important possible stimulation for the brain. The title of her book is Thirty Million Words; Building a Child’s Brain [New York: Dutton, 2015]. She emphasizes the importance of learning words during the early postnatal years.

    It would be of interest to look for changes in EEG brain waves in autistic children subjected to hearing (and learning to speak) millions of words (or names) for objects and actions shown in pictures. My son learned to speak and read names of objects on Lotto Cards, a suggestion made to me by a speech therapist.

    aka Eileen Nicole Simon


    • The minicolumnar abnormalities have been described as a so-called “dysplastic” phenomenon, one that happens during brain development. Many of the deficits created by these dysplastic processes are not stationary but transform, give rise to new symptomatology and change in severity during the lifetime of the individual. In regards to the study that you proposed (EEG in subjects subjected to hearing millions of words, etc) there is non that readily jumps to mind.


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