Child Experiences at 22q11.2 Research Center and Clinic
Most of our studies involve two sessions of about 4-5 hours each. It is a fun and interesting experience and many parents have reported how much their children enjoyed their visit. You will get to see images of your child's brain and your child will receive fun gift cards to stores such as Best Buy. Studies with adults involve the same activities; however, since most of our participants are children, we describe the “kid experience” below.
During one visit, your child will play several computer games wrapped up in a spaceship travel or similar fun theme. The games are designed to assess certain cognitive abilities, focusing on how your child pays attention, processes relations between objects and events in terms of space and time and can create and use numerical representations. There are many types of games your child will play. Here we give just a few examples.
In one game, four boxes appear on the screen and a signal directs the child’s attention to one of the boxes. Soon afterwards, a cute little alien appears in one of the boxes and the child has to indicate, by pressing a button on a button box, the location in which the alien appeared. The signal (or spatial cue) influences where in space attention is directed and the location is changed so that sometimes it helps the child to locate the alien (target) while at other times it causes attention to be directed to the wrong location. We are interested in the measuring the way in which children deal with different kinds of cues and misdirections in order to understand how the spatial attention system is working and under what circumstances it is impaired or unaffected. This can help us to identify underlying brain circuitry and think up ways to intervene to reduce impairments.
In another game your child is asked to looked at a computer screen and watch a display with instructions that their job is to check the windows of a space ship looking for a cartoon character resembling a cute little alien who is trying not to get caught. The "windows" open and close, and the alien can only be spotted when the windows are open. The windows are specially placed both in the middle and at the outer edges of the computer screen, and your child is asked to keep his/her eyes on the circle in the middle of the screen. A special device that tracks the position of your child’s eyes makes sure they are in the right place before allowing each alien appears. This game allows us to determine you’re the “spatial resolution” of your child’s visual attention system. Another way to say this is it allows us to measure how much visual space your child can use in which to process information. This allows us to test whether some children have more difficulty paying attention to things that they can see but that are not “right where they are paying attention” and so their brain is not able to make use of the information.
Another game allows us to measure the temporal resolution of your child’s visual system. In other words, we expected to find out how spread out in time separate objects need to be before they can be fully processed and understood in the mind and brain. To do this we show objects moving at some speed across areas of a computer screen. We will ask your child to view “mysterious” striped patterns that are moving through "windows" on a computer screen. Two "windows" will be visible on the computer screen at one time, and each window will contain a striped pattern that is moving at a particular speed. Your child will be asked to “catch” the quicker pattern by choosing one of the two windows.
During another part of the visit, we will travel a few blocks to the U.C. Davis Imaging Research Center where your child will be able to experience the "look and feel" of an MRI scanner and to get comfortable with the process. Here, we have a fully equipped simulator that creates the entire experience of our research scans in the MRI scanner. In the simulator, your child practices the version of the experiment video game that we use to actually measure brain function. He or she will also watch part of a movie of their choice while we simulate the structural brain imaging scans. The movie is a great way to help your child lay really still and to distract him or her from the sounds of the scanner. We have an extensive DVD library of movies but your child is encouraged to bring his or her own favorite movie to watch as an "in-flight movie" during the scan if desired. The simulator is used to get the child acclimated to what a real scan will be like. During the simulated scan, the sounds of a real scan are played and the movement of your child's is monitored to help him or her learn how still to lie during the real scan. If there is too much movement, the movie is frozen for a few seconds to indicate that the actual MRI pictures would be "fuzzy" with that amount of motion. The simulated scan is usually fairly short in duration. However, if necessary, your child can stay in for longer to "practice" the scan until he or she is completely comfortable with it and ready to try the real thing. Typically we include a lunch/snack break during the visit. The same procedure is available for adults who are anxious about the MRI procedure.
A child watching a movie in our practice scanner
During the real MRI your child will play the same computer game as they did in the simulated scanner and will get to watch more of the movie. This is achieved with a special visual display system not found in the typical hospital scanner. Most children quite enjoy the adventures of the MRI scan and are distracted by watching their movie. There is no radiation in the MRI scan and the procedure is very safe so long as no metal objects are brought into the scanner room. This is because MRI uses an extremely strong magnetic field, which is NEVER turned off, and so we must screen carefully for metal before carrying out the scan. Unfortunately, metal dental braces disturb the pictures and we cannot scan children when they have braces. You and your child will get to look at the brain images from the scan that very day, and it may be possible to have an image emailed home to you. The study is set up to be fun and engaging, and children typically really enjoy participating. They especially like getting their gift card at the end of the testing and many like to see pictures of their own brains, a copy of which can be taken home on a CD!
All study participants will undergo a neuropsychological evaluation, the details of which vary with the study. Most children (and adults) will spend 4-5 hours, including breaks, with one of the MIND Institute psychologists who are very experienced with testing a wide range of children. The evaluation consists of pencil and paper activities that involve puzzles, memory tests and the like. The child version is similar to school psychology tests and the process is fun and interactive for the child. The neuropsychological testing provides a broad assessment of intellectual and academic abilities using standardized measures that can measure your child's (or your) abilities against that of the general population of children. In this way, these tests complement the highly specific, experimental and non-standardized experiments (i.e. the computer games) in the lab portion of the study. Some time after the neuropsychological testing is complete you will receive a letter explaining the results and characterizing your child's (or your) performance. You may find this useful for your own curiosity or you may choose to share this information with your child's school. See the Clinical Activities page for information about the more extensive psychological assessment currently available for children with chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.