I am interested in understanding the biological basis of autism. Autism is a complex family of developmental disorders, which are identified according to the display of 3 behavioral symptoms: 1. Problems with social interaction. 2. Problems with the development and use of language 3. Confined interests and repetitive behaviors. The vast majority of Individuals with autism also exhibit sensory and motor abnormalities and 15-30% have clinical epilepsy (as opposed to ~1% in the general population).
What changes in the brain are associated with the development of this disorder? Recent studies about autism suggest that it is not caused by a local dysfunction of one particular brain area, but rather that autism is characterized by numerous subtle changes in multiple areas of the brain. In my current research I am utilizing fMRI and EEG to measure brain activity in individuals with autism and in matched controls. One project focuses on characterizing the basic response properties of sensory and motor neural populations in adults and a second project focuses on characterizing the organization and synchronization of spontaneously fluctuating brain activity in naturally sleeping toddlers.
There are two goals to this research, which are intimately related to one another. The first goal is to better understand what are the biological mechanisms that underlie the emergence of the strange and unique cognitive and social behaviors that are exhibited by individuals with autism. Can we relate particular neural characteristics to specific abnormal behaviors and identify the vague “limits” of typical brain development? The second goal is to identify objective biological measures that will enable early and accurate clinical diagnosis of autism, which would be able to replace the subjective behavioral measures that are currently used for diagnosis only after behavioral symptoms have developed. Characterizing the underlying mechanisms of autism will also be a critical step in identifying appropriate targets for novel forms of therapy.