Autism Update: Wearable Brain-Imaging Tool for the Very Young

The latest generation of a wearable neuroimaging tool called DOT is allowing researchers to peer into the brains of very young children, with and without autism, to see how they process language and other information relevant to social interactions. The goal, says MIR researcher Adam T. Eggebrecht, PhD, is to gain a better understanding of how autism affects brain function and behavior.

Eggebrecht, who helped develop DOT (diffuse optical tomography) to study brain response, is now working to make the technology more comfortable for his youngest study patients.

DOT consists of a cap-like device that the patient — in this case, an infant or toddler — wears during the imaging exam. The cap is connected by fiber optics to a portable cart that records brain activity. The latest version of the cap is lighter and more portable. A child can sit in a highchair or on his or her mother’s lap during imaging with DOT. Traditional brain imaging methods don’t allow this.

“We record brain activity while children listen to stories or watch age-appropriate movies,” says Eggebrecht. “We can analyze the stories and the movies for things like social or language content and then use that information to better understand what the brain of the child is responding to.” The hope is that these methods may help uncover what about the brain function in awake and behaving infants at risk for autism is different from infants who are typically developing.

Continues Eggebrecht, “The movies seem to do a good job of keeping the kids engaged, which is the first thing we need in a pediatric participant.”

Find out more about autism and the Washington University Autism Clinical Center.