VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - An FDA-approved treatment for depression is now being used to treat autism - and with promising results.
It's a non-drug treatment called Magnetic e-Resonance Therapy - or MeRT - for short, and for one Elizabeth City family, it’s been life-changing.
Seven-year-old Jagger Jordan is on the autism spectrum.
“He’s impulsive, which creates a lot of challenges,” said Jagger’s mom.
This is Jagger's first day receiving MeRT, and Neucoa Clinic in Virginia Beach is the only place offering this treatment in Hampton Roads.
Physician's Assistant David Day comes up with a treatment plan after an EEG is done.
"The device itself is a repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation device,” said Day.
It sends electrical pulses two inches into the brain, and each treatment takes about 35 minutes. I had them test it on my hand to see what it was like. It feels like faint light tapping.
"We can see that there are certain brain patterns and electrical activity where there's a disruption,” Day explained.
He's treated several other kids with autism who have come here from all over the East Coast.
"We have seen a child who was non-verbal actually start talking within two days to a week."
Day says the mask helps Jagger relax, so he's not processing a lot of information during the session.
There were no guarantees that the treatment would have any effect, but Jagger's mom tells me the results were life changing for him and their family.
"There were some moments that I thought I'd never see,” she said. "We're starting to see his desire to co-play like, ‘Hey come be involved,’ and that's not something we ever saw."
She went on to say, "About three weeks into treatment and he was sitting calmly on the couch - which is, by the way, a goal in itself - and I said, ‘Uh.. guess what?’ And he said, ‘I need a kiss.’ And I just thought I was gonna die.”
Treatment time is typically six weeks, and because it is a new way to treat autism, it is not covered by most insurance companies. The cost is about $10,000.