Tests that measure the electrical activity in the brain can distinguish children with autism from children with typical brains as early as age 2, researchers at Boston Children's Hospital have found.
Researchers compared raw data from the electroencephalogram tests, or EEGs, of 430 children with autism and 554 other children ages 2 to 12. They found that children with autism had consistent EEG patterns showing altered connectivity between different parts of the brain—generally, they showed reduced connectivity compared with the other children's brains.Their study was published this week in the online journal BMC Medicine.
This altered connectivity stood out in the left side of the brain, which controls language. Researchers focused on children with autism who had been referred for EEGs by neurologists, psychiatrists, or developmental pediatricians to rule out seizure disorders. Children diagnosed with seizure disorders, those with Asperger syndrome and other high-functioning children with autism were excluded from the study.
"We studied the typical autistic child seeing a behavioral specialist—children who typically don't cooperate well with EEGs and are very hard to study," Dr. Frank H. Duffy, of the department of neurology, said in a statement. "No one has extensively studied large samples of these children with EEGs, in part because of the difficulty of getting reliable EEG recordings from them."
He and Heidelise Als of the hospital's department of psychiatry used techniques to get clean, EEG recordings from children with autism while they were awake, such as allowing them to take breaks. They used computer algorithms to adjust for the children's body and eye movements and muscle activity, which can throw off EEG readings.
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