Tuesday, February 22, 2011

EEG Test for Autism?

BMC Medicine published an article today on the results of an EEG study to identify children with a sibling with Autism. The article covered an EEG test to check for mental activity within the speech and social centers of the brain for those siblings of a child with Autism (which typically places them in at a high risk for Autism themselves), and the control group for children with neurotypical siblings.  They found, with 80% accuracy, they could identify the children who had siblings with Autism. 

So, let's look a the study, which the authors freely admit is just a stepping stone to additional research.  The study is looking for brain activity, as measured by sensitive electrodes that rest on the scalp of a child aged between 6 to 24 months.  The activity indicate freely firing neurons, which in turn show information processing.  It is assumed that with high activity in this area, the child is strongly social, or will at least develop strong speech and social skills. 

They found that children who had a sibling with Autism tended to have less activity within the speech and social regions of the brain.  They also found that age was a significant factor, as at 9 months the classification accuracy was near 100%, and remained between 70% ad 90% at ages 12 to 18 months.  For girls, the classification was highest at age 6 months, and then declined. 

So what are we looking at here?  Well, on the surface, it looks like it's an ideal way to identify Autism, or at least at this stage show a child has a sibling that has Autism.  More study is needed to prove that Autism can be diagnosed through EEG's.  But something else comes to mind when I read the results of the study:  the accuracy starts to decline at age 9 months for boys, and 6 months for girls. The brain is an amazing organ, and has the ability to retrain itself when given specific stimuli, hence why AAC therapy is so effective with children on the Spectrum.  What's very interesting here is the decline in accuracy may actually be showing brain compensations within the children as they develop.  That's a fascinating idea, and one that we need to get to sooner within the Autism community.

It seems that too many people see Autism as a static disorder, much like blindness or deafness. But because it is a neurological disorder, it's possible the brain can work itself through Autism, and appear quite normal.  As Dr. James Coplan suggested  in his 5th post on PsychologyToday.com, time can make the difference if the child's IQ is sufficiently high enough to work it's way through the severity of the disorder.  Therefore, I see this study as not only significant, but necessary.

And another side note to the discovery:  It yet again proves that Autism is, in fact, a medical disorder, and at least the diagnosis should be covered by health insurance. 

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