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Brain's Magnetic Fields Reveal Language Delays in Autism
Date:11/30/2008

PHILADELPHIA and CHICAGO, Dec. 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Faint magnetic signals from brain activity in children with autism show that those children process sound and language differently from non-autistic children. Identifying and classifying these brain response patterns may allow researchers to more accurately diagnose autism and possibly aid in developing more effective treatments for the developmental disorder.

Timing appears to be crucial. "Children with autism respond a fraction of a second more slowly than healthy children to vowel sounds and tones," said study leader Timothy Roberts, Ph.D., vice chair of radiology research and holder of the Oberkircher Family Endowed Chair in Pediatric Radiology at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Roberts used a technology called magnetoencephalography (MEG), which detects magnetic fields in the brain, just as electroencephalography (EEG) detects electrical fields.

Roberts presented his findings today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago. "The brain's electrical signals generate tiny magnetic fields, which change with each sensation, and with communication among different locations in the brain," he added.

Roberts is working to develop "neural signatures" that can link recorded brain activity to particular behaviors in children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs), which are characterized by impaired development in communications and social functioning. "Our hypothesis is that speech and other sounds come in too fast for children with ASDs, and their difficulties in processing sound may impair their language and communication skills," said Roberts.

Physicians already use MEG to map the locations of abnormal brain activity in epilepsy, but the technology Roberts used is one of the few MEG machines available in a dedicated pediatric facility. In the current study, the researchers evaluated 6
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SOURCE The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
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