For children 8 years old or younger, we have a very scripted and thorough preparation process that takes about 20 minutes. We take it one step at a time and stop immediately if we notice a child becoming anxious, hesitant, teary, etc. at any time during the practice/mock session.
First, we show your child a cartoon about the scanner (animals going on a “space journey”), a slide show about a real participant’s visit to our lab, and demonstrate what it’s like to be inside “the tube” by using a fold-up play tunnel as the MRI machine. On a computer, we play the noises that the scanner makes while pretending inside the play tunnel. A well-trained staff member (“scanner buddy”) is assigned to assist your child and will be with your child during all scanning procedures. We answer all questions you or your child may have and take our time making sure your child understands what he/she will be asked to do. If the child is agreeable after “pretending” in our lab, we walk parent and child to VUIIS to pretend further using a real-looking MRI machine that has the working parts removed (mock scanner – no magnet). The parent will wait in a waiting area just outside the mock room. Again, we go through a script with your child that makes sure they understand they will need to lie as still as possible on the bed inside the tube while we take pictures of his/her brain. A lab member demonstrates first by going inside the scanner while the child pretends to be the assistant (allowed to push the buttons to make the bed go up and down, in and out of the tube, etc.). The child is then asked to lie down on the bed and practice inside the mock scanner. We have the child lie as still as possible while we run through shortened versions of all the tasks they will be asked to perform during the real scan. Younger children may only watch a movie, while slightly older children may be asked to perform tasks such as read sentences/short passages, match pictures to words, listen or watch for matching tone or symbol patterns, etc. We play the recorded scanner sounds during this practice session to try to mimic the real scanning environment as closely as we can. The mock scan takes about 30-40 minutes.