(02) 9850 2964

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CHILD AUTISM RESEARCH @ MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY, SYDNEY

Hearing the World Differently

Our team at Macquarie Univeristy are looking for 3- to 8-year-olds on the autism spectrum to take part in a study exploring how sounds are processed in the brain. Using a child-friendly technique called MEG, we hope to learn more about sensory processing in autism.

 

STUDY DETAILS

The study will run from January 2019 to December 2020

Who?

Children aged 3- to 8-years who have a diagnosis of autism.

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What’s involved?

In Part 1, your child will listen to musical sounds and watch a silent video of their choice for 20 minutes. During this time, they will lie in a child-friendly brain imaging device called magnetoencephalography (MEG; as shown in the picture). Our MEG system was designed specifically for children and is completely

safe and silent. For more information about our child MEG system, visit: https://bit.ly/2I5b3Hk

In Part 2, we will do games and activities with your child to determine where they lie on the autism spectrum, as well as a short cognitive assessment. We will also ask parents to fill out a questionnaire.

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What will families gain from participating?

Families will be paid $40 for Part 1 and $20 for Part 2. We can also provide a brief report based on the assessment conducted during the session (please note that this report cannot be used for diagnostic or clinical purposes, but rather provides a snapshot of your child’s strengths and challenges as observed in the context of our session).

Over 150 children have participated in our research so far and the children enjoy the novel experience. All activities are told through the narrative of a ‘space mission’ to keep the session fun and engaging.

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Booking a session:

When: Any day and time that suits (including weekends). Sessions are booked for 2 - 2.5 hrs with optional breaks.

Where: Australian Hearing Hub, Macquarie University, Sydney. FREE, UNTIMED parking available.

Contact autism researcher Hannah Rapaport for more information

hannah.rapaport@mq.edu.au

9850 2964

 

STUDY EXPLANATION

January 2019 - December 2020

The goal of this research project is to better understand why children on the autism spectrum often experience differences in sensory processing, or the way a person perceives the information they receive through their senses. Depending on the context, this difference may be beneficial, where a person might experience the world more intensely than neurotypical people. But sensory sensitivities may also be distressing at times, where a person might feel overwhelmed by all of the information coming into their senses.

To better understand sensory processing differences in autistic children, we are exploring a new theory in neuroscience called ‘predictive coding’. This theory suggests that the neurotypical brain relies on its knowledge – accrued from past experience – to actively anticipate information coming into the senses. For

example, as your eyes take in this sentence, your brain uses its knowledge of language to anticipate the next ... word. If the sentence had read: “...your brain uses its knowledge of language to anticipate the next ... banana”, then you probaby would have been surprised by the unexpected word.

Now suppose, for some reason, that the brains of autistic people aren’t relying as much on their knowledge and past experience to anticipate sensory information in the world. Then autistic people might feel surprised by the unexpected stimuli in the world much of the time, which could become exhausting and overwhelming. This might drive autistic people to avoid hard-to-predict situations, like novel environments or social gatherings, and instead, seek out easy-to-predict or familiar environments where they are less likely to be surprised by unexpected information from the world. This might explain why an autistic person might feel distressed when hearing an unexpected loud noise, but be perfectly at ease with a loud noise they create themselves.

In this research project, we are exploring whether there is evidence to support this ‘predictive coding’ theory of autism. To study this possibility, children lie in a child-friendly brain scanner (called ‘MagnetoEncephaloGraphy’ or ‘MEG’) and listen to a stream of musical sounds. Half of the sounds are repetitive and therefore should be easy to predict, and the other half are random and should be hard to predict.

If the brain is able to anticipate the repetitive sounds, but not the random sounds, then we should see a difference in the brain response between these two conditions. Specifically, we would expect a smaller brain response to the repetitive (easy-to-predict) sounds relative to random (harder-to-predict) sounds, as more nerual activity is required to process surprising stimuli. This is what we would expect to see in neurotypical children.

By contrast, if the brain is unable to anticipate both the repetitive sounds and the random sounds, then we should see no difference in the brain response between these conditions. Specifically, we would expect a large brain response to both the repetitive and random sounds alike, indicating that all of the sounds are surprising. This is what we might expect to see in children on the autism spectrum.

 

CONTACT US

The study is being conducted by Ms Hannah Rapaport, Professor Liz Pellicano, Associate Professor Paul Sowman, Dr Wei He and Dr Robert Seymour.

Location of the study: Australian Hearing Hub, 16 University Ave, Macquarie University NSW 2109

Contact Hannah for more information or to book a session.

(02) 9850 2964

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OUR CHILD MEG SYSTEM

Watch this video to learn more about our child-friendly MEG system:

https://www.jove.com/video/58909/studying-brain-function-in-children-using-magnetoencephalography

MEG is ideal for studying young children because it is silent and safe (it doesn’t emit radiation or magnetic fields).

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