This is a guest post from ASF Science Writer Jerri Sparks Kaiser. Jerri, a parent of four children, one of whom has autism, blogs for ASF from a parent’s perspective about the latest autism research. A former Congressional Press Secretary, Jerri is an experienced science writer and has written specifically about autism for many years. Before her life in PR, she was a trained researcher having earned her B.A. in Psychology at UCLA. She currently lives with her family in New York.
Over the course of my autistic son Jared’s life, he has gone through sleep difficulties, from the earliest weeks when most babies were sleeping 6 hours in a row, up to the present. Sure, there have been months, or even a few blessed years, when he has been able to sleep 6 ½-8 hours in a row but more often than not Jared’s sleep has been in bursts of 4-hour cycles. This has led to him having behavioral problems and to his parents and siblings not getting much rest.
When Jared was a baby, my husband and I were fortunate enough to work in an EEG lab while getting our Psychology degrees at UCLA. Since my husband is an EEG researcher and with guidance from his university advisors, we decided to record Jared’s EEG at 4 months of age to see if we could find out why our baby wasn’t sleeping. What we discovered is that our son, at 4 months old, had more brainwave activity as compared to others. We felt this meant that his brain was more activated, even while sleeping.
A recent study utilizing EEG in infants seems to support our early findings with our own son, although this one focused on attentional differences in social situations as opposed to simple brainwave activity differences while sleeping.
Researchers at Birbeck, University of London placed electrodes on the scalps of 6-10 month-old infants to measure their brainwave activity as they watched faces that either looked at them or away. Since humans have certain characteristic brainwave patterns during social eye contact the researchers were trying to see if infants who later on are diagnosed with autism show a different brainwave pattern in infancy. If this is so then the measurements can be used as an earlier indicator of autism or the tendency towards autism and it can give parents a head start on intervention. Results indicated that as early as 6-10 months infants who go on to develop autism already show different brainwave activity as compared to children who do not. Specifically, the infants who do develop autism process social information differently. It is important to note that not all infants who showed this pattern developed autism so the research will need to be expanded.
As I write this post, Jared, now 14, is in the hospital for behavioral problems associated with entering puberty last year. It has been 3 weeks now and the doctors still cannot find a way to help him sleep through the night, or sleep much at all, as it turns out. I am hopeful that as research continues there will be applicable treatments so that individuals struggling with autism’s challenges can get relief. I just wish it were sooner rather than later because I really miss my son.
Source: Birkbeck, University of London (2012, January 26). In the brain, signs of autism as early as 6 months old. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 13, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/01/120126123703.htm