Researchers studying the early development of autism and other behavioural conditions at Birkbeck, University of London’s “Babylab” are to be supported by colleagues at a new laboratory designed to study toddlers.
Research at the £3.7m Wohl Wolfson Toddlerlab will aim to increase the understanding of developmental disorders, potentially generating a programme of interventions for people with autism.
To date, Babylab scientists have lowered the age at which differences in brain development can be detected to just six to eight months. Researchers place passive sensors on babies’ scalps to register brain activity, while babies engage in games and other everyday behaviours. However, current facilities are not designed to study toddlers, who require more space as they carry out various daily activities, including walking and playing.
Using wireless technologies, the new lab will enable the advanced study of brain development for children from 18 months to three or four years in an environment simulating familiar surroundings for toddlers. Studying brain activity during sleep will also be possible, thereby providing data about how sleep impacts on child development.
Professor Mark Johnson, Founder and Head of Babylab’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, is leading the development of the Wohl Wolfson lab. “The more we understand the early signs of autism, and how they unfold into the full syndrome over the first years of life, the better we can target support services and help children and their families. The research conducted at the Toddlerlab promises to change the lives of people with autism”, he said.
The new lab is due to open in spring 2016.