Child brain study to help understand autism

London: Five-month-old Ricky Kimber is taking part in a study that will help researchers understand how babies learn from others and give clues about development of autism.

Infants like Ricky and younger than him will don sensor-filled caps and the researchers at the Durham University will monitor their brain functioning to understand how babies learn from seeing other people do things, the Daily Mail reported.

The university is hoping to bring on board at least 40 other babies, aged up to 10 weeks, for the tests.

The study will be conducted under parental supervision at all times and the babies will `walk` in a small bath.

They will then watch moving computer images of people walking while their brain activity is being monitored which will show the researchers how the babies` brains react to seeing someone walking.

The results will be compared to babies who have had no experience of `walking` and see if this has made any difference to how babies learn about other people.

Dr Vincent Reid, lead researcher and a psychologist at the University said he hoped it would help to spot autism in infants at an earlier age.

"While there is no cure for autism, intervention can take place to assist the condition. At present autism is not detected in infants until they are around three years of age," he was quoted by the paper as saying.

"This research should help us to learn how to possibly detect the condition at an earlier age," he added.

"How babies learn best is important for parents and carers and also gives a better understanding about how the brain reacts to social information, something which is crucial in the early detection of autism," he said.

Scientists wish to underscore that the tests are harmless, painless and non-invasive and none of the infants will be medically tested for autism, the report said.