Talking Brains: A study of speech production in autism

Our robots are ready for the challenge. Are you?
Our robots are ready for the challenge. Are you?

We’re looking for kids with autism as well as typically developing kids to take part in our research over the next few weeks.

Participants: English-speaking kids aged 8 to 16 years old

Project description: In this study, we are investigating how children choose the right words to say and the extent to which they use the left or right side of their brain to do this. We’re also interested in word production difficulties faced by some children with autism.

Children play a computer game (against a friendly robot) in which they have to name pictures on a computer screen as quickly as possible. While they do this, we measure the tiny magnetic fields produced by their brains. This is completely safe and non-invasive.

We also get the kids to complete some simple tests of language and reasoning skills.

The study takes place in our new labs at the Australian Hearing Hub on the Macquarie University campus. Altogether, it takes around 2 hours to complete. We pay $40 for each child and can arrange free parking.

Interested? Please email Shu Yau at or ring 9850 2991

Further information:

Who is conducting the research?

The study is being conducted by Dr Jon Brock, Associate Professor Blake Johnson, Associate Professor Genevieve McArthur, Dr Graciela Tesan, Dr Paul Sowman, Miss Shu Yau and Mr Nathan Caruana at the Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University. The study is funded by the Australian Research Council.

What are the aims of the study?

The study will use magnetoencephalography (MEG) to investigate the brain responses of children with autism as they produce and respond to speech.

What does the study involve?

Your child will wear a snugly fitting cap similar to a swimming cap and we will use a digital pen to trace over their head, to get a picture of their head shape. They will then be asked to put on earphones that are similar to earplugs and lie down on a bed, so their head is in the MEG helmet. They will then be asked to name a series of pictures. They will be in the MEG room for 45 minutes and can be accompanied by a parent at all times. They will also perform some behavioural tests (to get a record of their cognitive and language skills), which take approximately 1.5 hours. Children with Autism may be asked to complete the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), a play based test to confirm the diagnosis of Autism for research purposes.

Are there any risks involved in this research?

There are no physical risks involved in the study. If your child becomes tired or anxious, testing will stop immediately.

What happens if my child has unusual brain activity?

Very occasionally, MEG recording can reveal unusual brain activity, suggesting a possible medical condition such as epilepsy that may not have been identified before. In this event, we would advise you immediately.

Do we get paid for taking part?

We pay $40 for the MEG recording session, and $20 for each subsequent visit to complete the language/behavioural tests. We also arrange free parking on campus.

What happens to the information recorded?

The data will be coded and stored on a computer with password protection. Your child will be given an ID number and nobody other than the researchers will know their real name.

What happens if I change my mind?

Participation in this project is voluntary and it is important to us that your child is happy to be involved in this study. You are free to withdraw your child from the research study at any time, without a reason and you will still be reimbursed.

What should I do if I have a complaint about the conduct of this study?

The ethical aspects of this study have been approved by the Macquarie University Human Research Ethics Committee.  If you have any complaints or reservations about any ethical aspect of your participation in this research, you may contact the Committee through the Director, Research Ethics (telephone (02) 9850 7854; email  Any complaint you make will be treated in confidence and investigated, and you will be informed of the outcome.