A second opinion on developmental disorders

Aditi Shankardass: A second opinion on developmental disorders
When I was 10 years old, a cousin of mine took me on a tour of his medical school. And as a special treat, he took me to the pathology lab and took a real human brain out of the jar and placed it in my hands. And there it was, the seat of human consciousness, the powerhouse of the human body, sitting in my hands. And that day I knew that when I grew up, I was going to become a brain doctor, scientist, something or the other.

Years later, when I finally grew up, my dream came true. And it was while I was doing my Ph.D. on the neurological causes of dyslexia in children that I encountered a startling fact that I’d like to share with you all today. It is estimated that one in six children, that’s one in six children, suffer from some developmental disorder. This is a disorder that retards mental development in the child and causes permanent mental impairments. Which means that each and every one of you here today knows at least one child that is suffering from a developmental disorder.
But here’s what really perplexed me. Despite the fact that each and every one of these disorders originates in the brain, most of these disorders are diagnosed solely on the basis of observable behavior. But diagnosing a brain disorder without actually looking at the brain is analogous to treating a patient with a heart problem based on their physical symptoms, without even doing an ECG or a chest X-ray to look at the heart. It seemed so intuitive to me. To diagnose and treat a brain disorder accurately, it would be necessary to look at the brain directly. Looking at behavior alone can miss a vital piece of the puzzle and provide an incomplete, or even a misleading, picture of the child’s problems. Yet, despite all the advances in medical technology, the diagnosis of brain disorders in one in six children still remained so limited.
And then I came across a team at Harvard University that had taken one such advanced medical technology and finally applied it, instead of in brain research, towards diagnosing brain disorders in children. Their groundbreaking technology records the EEG, or the electrical activity of the brain, in real time, allowing us to watch the brain as it performs various functions and then detect even the slightest abnormality in any of these functions: vision, attention, language, audition. A program called Brain Electrical Activity Mapping then triangulates the source of that abnormality in the brain. And another program called Statistical Probability Mapping then performs mathematical calculations to determine whether any of these abnormalities are clinically significant, allowing us to provide a much more accurate neurological diagnosis of the child’s symptoms. And so I became the head of neurophysiology for the clinical arm of this team, and we’re finally able to use this technology towards actually helping children with brain disorders. And I’m happy to say that I’m now in the process of setting up this technology here in India.…more…

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