Researchers to go into the minds of infants

Top News | Sum Lok-kei 19 Apr 2017

Chinese University researchers will follow 300 local youngsters for five years to try to pin down factors for dyslexia and other development issues.

The ambitious study that starts tracking the children from birth is looking for contributing factors to brain development problems that can lead to language impairment and dyslexia, said research leader Patrick Wong Chun- man, who directs the university's Brain and Mind Institute.

Aside from collecting parental and environment data related to the 300, researchers will conduct an electroencephalogram test on the infants to measure brain development.

"It is hard to identify development issues among newborns by just looking at them or doing some simple tests," Wong said.

Using electrodes, he explained, researchers will record brainwave activities of newborns as words from their mother language is played to them over a speaker at the laboratory. This will allow researchers to measure how quickly and accurately a child's brain follows and reacts to the sounds.

Those with slower reactions could be more likely to be suffering from a development issue, and Wong and his team hope to develop interventions to bring these youngsters "up to speed."

Wong, who is also a language therapist, said early intervention in preschool years is important to treating development issues.

"By the time parents seek help from language therapists the problem is usually obvious," Wong said.

Intervention could be as simple as talking more to a child, Wong said, and the key is to find a way of communication that will induce better cognitive development.

"There are different ways of talking to a baby," he said. "What should you emphasize? Should you wait for a response before continuing?"

The study, he added, will hopefully provide answers to such questions.

Researchers have already started compiling a list of study subjects from Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin.

The target is 300 newborns from Cantonese-speaking families, adding that babies over a month old could already be beyond the age to join the study.

The youngsters will have to return to a facility at the university at three- to 12-month intervals over five years, with a transport subsidy provided to parents.

Interested parents can contact the Brain and Mind Institute. The study is being funded to the tune of HK$11.9 million by tycoon Stanley Ho Hung- sun's medical development foundation.

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