Transdermal Electrical Neuromodulation for Anxiety and Sleep Problems in High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: Feasibility and Preliminary Findings

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BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with anxiety and sleep problems. We investigated transdermal electrical neuromodulation (TEN) of the cervical nerves in the neck as a safe, effective, comfortable and non-pharmacological therapy for decreasing anxiety and enhancing sleep quality in ASD. METHODS: In this blinded, sham-controlled study, seven adolescents and young adults with high-functioning ASD underwent five consecutive treatment days, one day of the sham followed by four days of subthreshold TEN for 20 min. Anxiety-provoking cognitive tasks were performed after the sham/TEN. Measures of autonomic nervous system activity, including saliva α-amylase and cortisol, electrodermal activity, and heart rate variability, were collected from six participants. RESULTS: Self-rated and caretaker-rated measures of anxiety were significantly improved with TEN treatment as compared to the sham, with effect sizes ranging from medium to large depending on the rating scale. Sleep scores from caretaker questionnaires also improved, but not significantly. Performance on two of the three anxiety-provoking cognitive tasks and heart rate variability significantly improved with TEN stimulation as compared to the sham. Four of the seven (57%) participants were responders, defined as a ≥ 30% improvement in self-reported anxiety. Salivary α-amylase decreased with more TEN sessions and decreased from the beginning to the end of the session on TEN days for responders. TEN was well-tolerated without significant adverse events. CONCLUSIONS: This study provides preliminary evidence that TEN is well-tolerated in individuals with ASD and can improve anxiety.


anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, cortisol, heart rate variability, neuromodulation, neurostimulation, sleep anxiety, transdermal electrical neuromodulation, α-amylase

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Journal of personalized medicine







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