Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A New Perspective on Autism Spectrum Disorde

Two teams of researchers from Bucknell University and its Geisinger Autism and Developmental Medicine Institute (ADMI) are conducting different studies to explore the same thing: how to diagnose autism earlier. Ultimately, the researchers hope their work will lead to earlier clinical and therapeutic interventions for children with neurodevelopmental disorders like autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social and communication skills, and by abnormal coherence to repetitive behaviors. Experts claim that ASD, which typically manifests before age three, is the fastest-growing childhood development disorder (13% to 15% annual growth).

Scientists aren’t certain about what causes ASD, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role. Because of the unknown and complex nature of this disorder, effective diagnosis and treatment of ASD has proven challenging.

In one of the studies, Aaron Mitchel, assistant professor of psychology at Bucknell, and his research partners will investigate how two genetic causes of autism spectrum disorder impact children's abilities to integrate visual, auditory and other stimuli. They will examine multisensory integration, or the ability to connect stimuli perceived with different senses.

"Previous research on multisensory integration has studied dyslexia, ADHD, autism. It was focused on behavioral diagnoses," Mitchel said. "We're going to the heart of matter, to the genetic diagnoses to see if there is commonality."           

Rich Kozick, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Bucknell, and Andrew Michael, director of ADMI’s neuroimaging analytics laboratory, are studying methods for capturing the work of brain networks using functional MRI technology. The researchers hope their work will lead to a more accurate tool for diagnosing ASD.

Their project draws upon the deep database of brain-imaging data available through the ADMI, Michael's knowledge of brain imaging and Kozick's expertise in signal processing, which he has previously applied to military and robotics projects.

For our BCC Research report on autism spectrum disorder, visit the following link:

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