A recent large case study conducted by Boston Children's Hospital research suggests that the widely available neurodiagnostic test electroencephalogram (EEG) may help diagnose young children with autism. According to CDC estimates, one in 88 children in the United States has an autism disorder potentially leading to significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
Electroencephalography (EEG) is the recording of electrical brain activity along the scalp. In clinical contexts, EEG refers to the recording of the brain's spontaneous electrical activity over a short period of time, usually 20–30 minutes, utilizing multiple electrodes placed on the scalp.
Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital compared raw EEG data from 430 children with autism to data collected from 554 control subjects, all ages 2 to 12. They found that children with autism displayed consistent EEG patterns which indicate altered connectivity between brain regions. They found evidence of altered connectivity throughout the brains of children with autism. Most remarkably, they found a pronounced reduction in connectivity in regions of the left hemisphere controlling for language areas of the brain. Young children with autism showed increased connectivity between brain regions that were farther apart, suggesting they may have developed a compensation mechanism for other connectivity problems.
"The brain works like a series of computers and they have to hook to one another through nerves in the brain in order to connect and function together," study author Dr. Frank H. Duffy, a psychiatrist at Boston Children's Hospital, told TIME. "We can estimate from EEGs how well regions connect to one another.
Accordingly, researchers found 33 "factors" distinguishing children with autism from their control subjects. In the end, the study was confirmed when the researchers split and analyzed the data in different ways. The findings are published in "A stable pattern of EEG spectral coherence distinguishes children with autism from neuro-typical controls - a large case control study"
released by BMC on June 26, 2012
"These factors allowed us to make a discriminatory rule that was highly significant and highly replicable," Duffy said in a press release. "It didn't take anything more than an EEG - the rest was computational. Our choice of variables was completely unbiased - the data told us what to do."
According to this research, these findings could lead to neurodiagnostic testing for autism in children as young as two years old when behavioral symptoms may not be easily noticed by caregivers and parents.