Birkbeck, University of London, has launched ato raise £30,000 for the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development’s (CBCD) new ToddlerLab.
For the past 20 years, the CBCD’s BabyLab has been investigating the psychological processes in infants’ brains and BabyLab researchers have uncovered major insights into child development.
They have identified the earliest marker of autism in babies, examined the links between Down’s syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease and investigated the effects of screen time on babies as young as six-months-old, among other world-leading research projects.
They are currently looking for other early markers for autism and other developmental disorders, such as ADHD, by studying children who have an older brother or sister with one of these conditions.
To progress their research further, the scientists need to be able to extend their learnings from babies to toddlers, which requires different types of equipment.
Where babies can sit on their parents’ laps, toddlers require wireless technologies to be able to run around, which will enable the scientists to see how their young brains respond to activity.
Professor Denis Mareschal, Director of the CBCD, said:
There’s a real black hole in our understanding of the development of toddlers’ brains. Toddlers are active and dynamic. They don’t want to sit still and take part in our tasks. What they want to do is play and explore and meet other friends.
The new ToddlerLab will provide us with an exciting facility for toddlers to roam around, interact with peers and behave as they would in the normal world, but all the while wearing specialist equipment that allows us to measure their brain activity.
One cutting-edge piece of technology the ToddlerLab will include is the CAVE: an audio-visual, immersive, virtual reality, environment. This can transport toddlers to different surroundings to see how they react to different scenarios and stimuli.
Professor Mareschal explained:
Seeing how children react to different environments is very important because many toddlers will only be detected as having disorders when they go to school and they have to interact with their peers. Having lots of other children around brings out the difficulties these children have in engaging what others are thinking and how to respond to them.
It’s important to identify these disorders as early as possible because this means that we can start to intervene. We can help the child by putting them in a programme that may help alleviate their symptoms, or by helping their parents to identify a problem and giving them strategies for coping with any difficulties that their children will have, as well as learning new ways of interacting with their children that may circumvent the problems.