“Baby Ezra is sitting on his mother's lap and staring at the computer screen with the amazement of someone still new to the world. The five-month-old's eyes rest on a series of pictures: three dancing women, four black circles, then a face among random objects. Ezra studies the screen with fascination — although now and then, his attention wanders. He lets out a gurgle, and moments later, a short cry. He is chewing a sock….
How do you get into the mind of a human being who cannot speak, does not follow instructions and rudely interrupts your experiments? That is the challenge embraced by scientists at the Babylab.”
So begins science journalist Linda Geddes’ news feature on the University of London’s Babylab, in this week's online edition of Nature.
In 2013, the Babylab started the flagship project of which Ezra is part: an effort to study infants from 12 weeks old who are at high risk of autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder alongside a control group, in order to detect more early signs of these conditions and find behavioral therapies that might help, Geddes reports.
Since then, Babylabl’s scientists have pioneered techniques such as infant near-infrared spectrometry to track brain activity. They are also combining multiple high-tech techniques to identify early signs of autism and help develop early interventions that can help.
"In many cases, autism is diagnosed well after parents and others suspect that something may be wrong,” comments Dan Smith, Autism Speaks’ vice president of innovative technologies. “That lag represents a loss of vital early neurodevelopment time. That’s why big, rigorous research and projects like Babylab are so important. They promise to solve this problem by finding previously hidden signs earlier and more reliably."