This research study aims to investigate the effects of mild electrical stimulation to regions on your scalp on the ability to understand social information.
We know that individuals with an ASD often have difficulty understanding other people's emotions or social situations and that this can often cause difficulties in everyday life. We also know that sometimes the treatments offered to help with this may not work for everyone or in every situation.
We hope that this study will help us understand whether or not we can improve social cognition in young adults with an ASD by applying mild electrical stimulation to some regions of the brain. We are doing this because we know that some regions of the brain are important in controlling how we process and understand social and emotional information. We hope that by applying mild electrical stimulation, we may be increasing activity in these regions and therefore enhance the function of these regions when processing social and emotional information.
Who can participate?
We are currently recruiting young adults with autism aged between 18 and 25 years for this study.
What does participation involve?
If you choose to participate in this study, we would complete some interviews. In the first session, we will ask you some questions about your medical history, do some play-based tasks, and complete some tests of your cognition, such as memory and attention tests. In the next session, you will be randomly allocated to a stimulation condition which only the researchers will know. This study is a sham-controlled study, meaning that some participants will be allocated to a sham (fake) stimulation condition. Participants in the other conditions will receive stimulation for the entire duration at one of two sites on the scalp. It is important for participants to remain unaware of which condition they are in so the results of the study are not affected.
tDCS is a non-invasive procedure in which a direct current (from a 9-volt battery source) is passed through two electrodes placed on the scalp. The electrodes are made of rubber and enclosed in a sponge container that has been moistened with sterile water. The stimulation itself is painless. You might feel a tingling sensation or (less commonly) an itching sensation under the electrode when the stimulation begins. These sensations will be minimized by turning the current on at a low level and gradually increasing it until the maximal levels is reached. There are no known adverse side effects of tDCS in humans.
As part of this study you will need to complete some standardised questionnaires that measure your emotional experiences. Following the stimulation you will then complete some computer-based tasks that will measure your ability to understand social and emotional information. This second session is not expected to take longer than 2 hours.
What conditions can exclude participation in this study?
Current diagnosis of epilepsy or other seizure disorder
Any neurological disorder or history of brain surgery
Any cardiovascular disorder
Frequent headaches or migraines
Any active skin disease (such as eczema)
Any unstable medical condition
Any history of episodes of faintness
History of prolonged loss of consciousness
Any metal implants or devices in your body (e.g. surgical clip, coronary stent). Note: metal dental fillings or metal dental braces will not exclude you from participating.
Currently using a hearing aid
Taking medications will not exclude participation in this study, but it is a requirement that the dosages have been the same for the last 2 months.
How can I get involved?
Please contact Study Coordinator Gail Alvares via email or phone (08) 9489 7627