Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Researchers Identify Autism Biomarker

A study presented at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America indicates that it may be possible to accurately identify autistic children at a very early age by measuring brain wave patterns to determine if a child has a significant lag in auditory processing. As reported in an Associated Press article:

The brain wave study used noninvasive technology called magnetoencephalography, MEG for short. It measures magnetic fields generated by electrical currents in brain nerve cells, and records brain activity in real time.

Researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia had 64 autistic children ages 6 to 15 listen through headphones to a series of rapid beeps while under the helmet-like device, which recorded the brain's response to the sounds. Those brain waves, shown as highlighted areas on an imaging screen, were compared with responses in a group of non-autistic children.

In autistic children, response to each sound was delayed by one-fiftieth of a second.

"We tend to speak at four syllables per second," said Timothy Roberts, the study's lead author and the hospital's vice chairman of research. If an autistic brain "is slow in processing a change in a syllable ... it could easily get to the point of being overloaded."

Although the study did not include younger children, the researchers believe that it may be possible to use the same method of brain wave measurement for diagnostic purposes in very young children.

The reporter suggested that the benefit of using this biomarker for diagnosis would be that "it could mean behavior treatment much sooner." But as I see it, a diagnostic biomarker would be valuable for precisely the opposite reason—because it would take autism out of the subjective realm of behavioral observations and define the condition, for the first time, in terms of hard science. Autistic children would receive more of the services that they need from speech and language professionals, instead of spending large amounts of time in intensive behavioral programs that lack solid research to support their practices.

Although reasonable people can differ on the issue of whether some autistic children may be helped by behavioral therapies, it is a fact that behavioral practitioners are not trained or licensed to provide speech therapy or related services. If autism is to be defined in terms of auditory processing differences, then I believe the logical conclusion is that services for autistic children should be provided primarily by, or under the direction of, speech and language professionals.

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  • Have you ever had your cell phone feedback your own voice with a fraction-of-a-second time delay? Every time that happens to me, I immediately stop talking. It's just too much to process. (And I swear I'm mostly NT!)


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:21 PM  

  • I also would like autism diagnosis to move away from the behavioral markers, and for treatment (of such features as might actually benefit from treatment, as opposed to accommodation) to be geared toward underlying causes for "problem" behaviors. If there are training exercises that might improve auditory processing, or improve sensory integration in general, or whatever a particular person lacks that they might wish they had, this technique (and others like it) could be used to identify people who might benefit from them.

    By Blogger Lindsay, at 10:10 PM  

  • We desperately need an objective way to determine if someone has autism. If such an objective means existed, I probably would be found to not have autism after all.

    By Blogger polyrhythmia, at 3:39 AM  

  • The visual acuity study from the ARC at Cambridge University, also proposes a value and judgment free process of diagnosis.

    By Blogger Socrates, at 12:54 PM  

  • All of it is flawed, because if you look at it again, what this is doing is promoting once again a single etiology of autism, which may be true in some cases but given the way autism presents is highly unlikely to be descriptive of the entire phenomenon, which is essentially a socially mediated one.

    It is like saying a biomarker for being considered as a disabled person would be having one leg shorter than another, well what the hell, autism is not a medical condition is it? we are constructed and labelled as different by any number of criteria to suit the definitions of those who favour that way of looking at things.

    This is just more scientific piss and wind.

    This kind of science is wasting vast amounts of money and satisfying nobody but a relatively small band of researchers who bask in there own smugness.

    By Blogger Larry Arnold PhD FRSA, at 4:10 PM  

  • "If autism is to be defined in terms of auditory processing differences" ... then wouldn't it be the same thing as Central Auditory Processing Disorder?

    I think there's a lot more to the autistic conditon than this one difference, and whether or not one is identified as autistic has a lot to do with social factors.

    Is it a coincidence that major milestones in the scientific recognition of Asperger syndrome have tended to coincide with or follow just after global recession or US recession periods? AS was first identified in the literature in 1981, during a US recession, AS was added to the ICD-10 in 1992 during a global recession and just after a US recession, and AS was added to the DSM in 1994 following a global recession, and I think there was a lot of stuff in the printed media about AS around the year 2002 during a global recession and just after a US recession.

    When people are finding that they are out of work because they don't do the required social suck-up routine during the job hunt process then AS is seen as a really big deal. When parents look a their kids and wonder if their bright but dorky offspring will find a decent job in the rat race, then they are more likely to wonder if there might be something wrong with their son or daughter. But if you go back 40 years or more the strangest people could get good jobs and have the things that they expected to have. There was low unemployment then.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 9:47 AM  

  • It seems to me that behaviorism is a poor approach to interacting with anyone; it's especially hard to see it being used with children who are already struggling to connect with other people. I hope that as more and more specific roadblocks (with auditory processing, hypersensitivies, etc.) can be identified and addressed, we can get past the carrot and stick view of human nature.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:52 PM  

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