Asperger s and Autism: Brain

Autism Aspergers test

One of the most interesting ASD studies to emerge this year is titled, The relationship of Asperger’s syndrome to autism: a preliminary EEG coherence study. It’s brought to us by a team from Boston Children’s Hospital: Frank Duffy, Aditi Shankardass, Gloria B McAnulty, and Heidelise Als.

Reporters who’ve written about this story say it distinguishes Asperger’s from autism. If that’s so, they raise the question: Are Asperger’s and autism two distinct and separate conditions?

I’d like to address those issues in this article. I’ll do so by explaining the methods behind the study, and what I think the findings mean. The intrepid among you may want to see the original paper, which you can read here:

You may also want to read the principal author’s 2012 paper, A stable pattern of EEG spectral coherence distinguishes children with autism from neuro-typical controls - a large case control study. It’s the foundation for the work discussed here.

What they did

In 2012, the researchers published a first paper (the second one cited above) in which they described analyzing EEG data from almost 1, 000 children – half of whom had been diagnosed with autism and half who were NT. That analysis was able to separate the autistic kids from the NY controls with an accuracy of more than 90%. That in itself was striking. But there’s more, as released in this newest paper . . .

They continued with an additional premise and a question: If our first study showed that EEG data can distinguish people on the autism spectrum from the NT population, could further EEG analysis separate people with Asperger’s from the general autism population?

To answer that question they re-evaluated the data for 430 autistic kids from their first study and compared it to fresh data for 26 kids with an Asperger diagnosis. That was compared to data for 554 neurotypical controls. All kids in the study ranged from 2-12 years in age; recently diagnosed in the Harvard hospital system using current best practice methods. None of the kids in the study had other disorders (epilepsy, for example) that would alter or confound EEG data collection.

To gather the data for analysis researchers placed 24 electrodes in a grid pattern on each subject’s head. Those electrodes collected EEG waves for a minimum of 8 minutes while the kids sat there, awake. Having experienced this process myself I can say EEG collection is not painful or stressful; it’s just boring – sitting still for 10 minutes at a time.

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Making Sense of Children's Thinking and Behavior: A Step by Step Tool for Understanding Children Diagnosed With NLD, Asperger's, HFA, PDD-NOS, and Other Neurological Differences
Book (Jessica Kingsley Pub)
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Sammons Preston Sammons Preston GADS: Gilliam Asperger Disorder Scale
Health and Beauty (Sammons Preston)
  • This listing is for GADS: Gilliam Asperger Disorder Scale
  • Complete GADS Kit Includes: Examiner s Manual and 25 Summary/Response Forms, all in a sturdy storage box. (2001)
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  • The scale is easily completed by teachers, parents, and others who have knowledge of the subject s behavior or the greatest opportunity to observe him or her.
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