PI: Professor Mark Johnson (Birkbeck, University of London)
Funding:MRC (Phase1 and 2), Autism Speaks (Phase1)
Autism is a developmental condition affecting up to 1 in 150 children in the UK. Currently, autism can only be diagnosed after three years of age, when symptoms affecting social development and communication are sufficiently clear. Understanding how autism emerges in the early years could provide vital answers to several puzzling questions, including the underlying causes. It could also help explain why outcomes are so variable in different children. The main aim of the study is to follow the development of the baby brothers and sisters of children diagnosed with autism, compared to babies who have older siblings with no family history of autism. Families are asked to visit the lab regularly from the time the babies are around 4-6 months until they reach 3 years. Families usually spend a whole day at the Babylab, with their child taking part in several fun short computer tasks such as watching faces and colourful animations as well as taking part in interactive games with the researcher. It is hoped that in the long term this study will help identify the early signs of the disorder, allowing for earlier and more effective intervention aimed at improving the quality of life of children with autism.