Using EEGs to Diagnose Autism

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Autism is typically not diagnosed until after the age of two years old. Researchers are trying to change that and find ways of detecting and diagnosing autism before a child turns two, which would allow a child to benefit from early intervention services during the very early years. Early intervention services have been found to decrease the challenges associated with autism.

    A recent study looked at using an EEG to measure how quickly a child processes sound to help detect autism as well as determine the severity of autism. The study was completed at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Researchers used EEGs on 43 children, ranging in age from 6 to 17 years old, with autism. The participants were shown and image, heard a tone or were shown an image and given a tone at the same time.They pushed a button to register how quickly they responded to the stimulus.

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    The slower the child responded to sound, the more severe the autism symptoms were, including social communication difficulties, repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. The study’s author believes this type of testing could be used as a diagnostic tool in the future.

    The study’s lead author, Sophie Molholm, completed research in the past showed that for children with autism, the brain takes slightly longer to process sensory information, such as sounds and sights. Other studies have shown the same thing. Timothy Roberts of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia monitored sound processing in 30 children with autism, ranging in age from 6 to 15 years old. He found that children with autism processed sounds anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent slower than children without autism.

    The authors of the new study are optimistic about the practical applications for measuring brainwaves. They believe, with additional research, the information can be used for determining severity of symptoms as well as measuring areas that individuals with autism are good at. Early diagnosis is also a possibility. The authors believe this type of tool would be used in addition to the current diagnostic process but hopes that in the future it would be a way to diagnose autism as a stand-alone tool and provide an objective diagnosis. Currently there is no laboratory test to confirm a the presence of autism.

    This study was small, looking at only 43 children. Moholm plans to continue her research and hopes to find ways that EEGs could benefit in the diagnosis and treatment of children with autism.  


Published On: September 23, 2014