child with autism

About the BRAIN Study

Autism is a very complex disorder, and it is likely that various subtypes exist. For over 10 years, investigators at the MIND Institute have been trying to define different subtypes of autism in order to develop the best treatments for each type. As part of this effort, we have been examining the brains of children with autism and age matched typically developing kids to see if there are different patterns of development and organization. The BRAIN study of the Autism Center of Excellence focuses on a specific group of children who have very large head and brain size relative to the rest of their body.

In our previous work, we have found that about 15% of boys with ASD have this large brain form of autism. So far we have found that there are fewer in this group, but we want to investigate this further to see if this is a real difference between boys and girls with autism. Besides a big brain, we have found that these kids are generally less verbal and show lower IQ gains during early development. Even though they receive just as much treatment as other children with autism, their prognosis is not nearly as good. The goal of this project is to understand why this is the case.

The short-term goal of this project is to gain a better understanding of the cognitive strengths and weaknesses of children with the big brain form of autism. We also hope to gain a more in depth understanding of their brain structure and function. The long-term objective is to try to develop targeted treatments and interventions to improve the prognosis of children with this neurophenotype.


  • Children between the ages of 2 to 3-1/2 at the time of the first visit
  • Have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or typical development
  • Live with at least on biological parent
  • Must understand English

What does participation involve?

Participation involves 2-3 half day visits to the UC Davis MIND Institute for behavioral assessments, medical examination and a blood draw, 1 half day visit to the Center for Mind and Brain in Davis for an EEG, and 1 nighttime visit for an MRI at the Imaging Research Center in Sacramento. We will ask you to come back over the next 2 years with your child to repeat some or all of these components to track your child’s development.

What will you receive for participating in the study?

  • A brief letter of information about your child’s performance on the behavioral assessments
  • A copy of the MRI brain scan on a CD
  • A copy of the MRI report will be provided to your child’s physician, with your consent
  • Compensation and a travel stipend after each visit

We have put together the following materials to help you and your child understand and prepare for the components of this study:

About ERP and EEG (PDF) »
Phlebotomy Information (PDF) »
MRI Sounds (VIDEO) »
Your ERP Visit (VIDEO) »

Family Testimonials

MRI Process at the UC Davis MIND Institute

Why we participated in the
Brain Research in Autism
Investigating Neurophenotypes
(BRAIN) Study

Why we participated in the
Brain Research in Autism
Investigating Neurophenotypes
(BRAIN) Study