Medicine

In Breakthrough, Researchers Detect Autism Signs In Infants

In Breakthrough, Researchers Detect Autism Signs In Infants

Details of the study were published online in the journal Nature on Wednesday, February 15.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of babies at 6 and 12 months with older siblings with autism may correctly predict 80 per cent of those infants who may develop it at two years of age, researchers have found.

First, infants who develop ASD by age 2 appear to undergo relatively high brain-surface growth between ages 6 months and 1 year. Cynthia Schumann, an expert on autism brain imaging at the University of California, Davis, notes that the findings apply only to high-risk infants, and not to the general population. "When we know more about neural pathways, we can think more about the genetic pathways", he says.

Behavioral symptoms usually become evident between ages two and four, and research has shown that children who receive the earliest treatment tend to reap the most benefits.

Autism belongs to a group of complex disorder of brain development, which characterized by difficulties in interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication.

About 1 in 68 USA children has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, according to the latest report from the CDC. All the toddlers had older siblings with the condition, which puts the younger children at higher risk for being diagnosed with autism.

This research project included hundreds of children from across the country and was led by researchers at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) at the University of North Carolina (UNC). Other key collaborators were New York University, the College of Charleston, McGill University and the University of Alberta.

These scans showed bigger brain changes at those who would meet the criteria for this disease. "We could not have made these discoveries without their wholehearted participation". MRI scans were conducted on the babies at the 6-month, 1-year, and 2-year marks.


Scientists took MRI brain scans of 106 babies who were considered "high-risk" for developing autism because they had a sibling who had the disorder.

The authors continued that the surface area expansion they saw was "significantly increased" in those children and "the finding of brain overgrowth in this sample of young children with "idiopathic" ASD is consistent with emerging literature demonstrating brain overgrowth in genetically defined ASD subgroups".

Researchers also say that larger studies are needed to confirm the accuracy of autism prediction using MRIs.

Brain scans of babies may be able to detect which children will be diagnosed with autism.

Why has it been so tough to diagnose autism in infants?

"Once you've missed those developmental milestones, catching up is a struggle for many and almost impossible for some".

According to the World Health Organisation, about one child in 160 has ASD - possibly much more. Although there is still no cure, early intervention provides an opportunity to reduce symptoms and improve social, cognitive, and emotional skills.

It can potentially help reduce the severity of autism in children with earlier diagnosis.