Autism can now be “aided” through a Maltese researcher’s brainwave: an invention that has been proven to improve relaxation and focus.
Its creator, Dr Adrian Attard Trevisan, insists his ground-breaking headband, known as Mente, is not a cure for autism. He calls it a “special aid”, improving autistic children’s ability to be more in touch with their surroundings by 500 per cent.
What resembles a simple headband, with two electrodes – highly sensitive microphones that record signals from the skull – allows autistic children who normally feel tense and uncomfortable in social settings to be more receptive.
It has to be worn for 40-minute sessions every day, Dr Attard Trevisan explained, since the effect fades away after sleeping.
He has been back in Malta for a year and, with his partner Alex Grech, has set up AAT Research Ltd in Mosta, employing six engineers and biomedical engineers to combine medicine and business.
The 28-year-old, who has a doctorate in neuroscience from University College London and is starting a second PhD, spent almost five years developing the EEG (electroencephalography) technology, which has a worldwide patent.
He has even written a book on it, called Introduction to Brain Music System, and the technology is being distributed in the US.
The technology controls the “small power station in the brain”. It works by recording brainwave level in real time, sending the information to computer software and providing an EEG representation of before, after and during the 40-minute session, which is then analysed.
“In autistic people, the delta brainwave, one of four, which is associated with sleep and closed eyes, peaks constantly, even when they are awake, leaving them in their own world. Mente uses an auditory system to suppress these waves,” Dr Attard Trevisan explained.
In UK trials, questions were sent to learning support assistants and speech pathologists working with autism to understand how any changes were perceived.
They noticed a difference, particularly in attitude, saying the autistic people they worked with were more receptive, Dr Attard Trevisan said.
He chose to use his neuroscience knowledge to tackle autism when he was working in France’s European Space Agency and met a family whose child had Asperger syndrome, a variant of the disorder.
The resulting invention, which is about to hit the Maltese market, is supported by the Autism Parents Association. The head of the Child Development Assessment Unit will be addressing the launch.
Mente targets the whole spectrum of autism and is designed for home use. Distributed by Technoline, it costs about €500 but a number are being given out to those who need it but cannot afford it.
Spectacles that can beat pain
Mente is not AAT Research’s first invention. Products in the pipeline include a device for epilepsy that sends parents a warning through a phone call 45 minutes before a fit, which could help avoid a fatality.
This may seem like the stuff of fairy tales, but the research house is also tackling pain management through wearing spectacles that overload neuroreceptors.
After a session, pain is not felt for several hours, Dr Attard Trevisan said, adding that the spectacles could complement morphine for cancer patients.
AAT Research is also working on the Sorriso project with the University of Milan, where it is incorporated as a research institute.
It tackles facial paralysis, allowing surgeons to get a picture of a person’s smile to be aware of the location of various muscles during an intervention.
Using an EEG head cap, patients imagine their smile and it pops up on a monitor.
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