Brain function

Studies that focus on the biological markers of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) complement those conducted on behavioural markers. Charting biological markers, such as physical characteristics, hormones, genetic features or brain function, will not only help in facilitating a more objective, and earlier, diagnosis of the ASDs but, importantly, will enhance our understanding of the biological basis of these conditions.

Do the brains of young infants who are later diagnosed with ASD show any early signs of differences? Our investigations in this area are trying to find an answer by measuring brain function in infant siblings of children with an ASD, as they are considered to be at high genetic risk of developing an ASD. We are comparing brain function of those siblings who will later be assessed as having an ASD with that of low-risk siblings.

Studies currently recruiting participants

Development of Infants at High Genetic Risk for ASD – Brain and Behaviour

Researchers: Jordy Kaufman (PhD, Swinburne University of Technology), Kristelle Hudry (PhD) and Cheryl Dissanayake (PhD)

Study ID code: KH1. Register for this study using our online form.

Study aim: This study is designed to examine early brain markers of ASD in infants who are at high genetic risk for developing this disorder, based on having an older sibling with such a diagnosis. Measurements of brain function may be more sensitive and earlier indicators of risk status.

Infants are seen over a number of visits, beginning from four months of age, at the Swinburne BabyLab. Measures of brain response to the various social and non-social stimuli are taken at these repeated visits, following the infants as they get older. From two years of age, these children are seen at OTARC, where various behavioural assessments of social-communication skill, play, language and learning ability are undertaken.

Selection criteria for participants: Young infants aged between 4 and 14 months who either have an older sibling with a diagnosis of ASD or, to be in our comparison group, an older sibling without ASD (and with no ASD in extended family members).

What is involved for participants: Infants are seen at the Swinburne BabyLab where measures of brain response and visual tracking are taken. In toddlerhood, families attend OTARC where play-based assessments of their developmental level and skills in social interaction, communication, and play are taken. At this stage, we are seeing children until around the third birthday, but we hope to be able to continue following them through later life.

Contact details: Dr Kristelle Hudry or Professor Cheryl Dissanayake