Study Shows Brain Scan Can Detect Autism Long Before Symptoms Appear
Feb 16, 2017 02:04 PM EST
A recent study shows that brain scans can detect autism long before any symptoms start to emerge. Published in the Nature journal, scientists show that the origins of autism start much early in life - as early as the first year of life.
The findings could lead to an early test and even therapies that work while the brain is more malleable, considering the fact that the earliest children tend to be diagnosed of autism is often at the age of two or later. The study looked at 148 children including those at high risk of autism because they had older siblings with the disorder.
All study participants had undergone brain scans at six, 12 and 24 months old, according to the study published in the Nature journal. Early differences were revealed in the cerebral cortex, in the part of the brain responsible for high level functions like language, also the part children go on about in being diagnosed with autism.
"Very early in the first year of life we see surface brain area differences, that precede the symptoms that people traditionally associate with autism," Dr Heather Hazlett, one of the researchers from the University of North Carolina, told BBC News. "It gives us a good target for when the brain differences might be happening for children at high risk of autism."
The researchers infused the brain scan images into an artificial intelligence that was able to predict which group of children would develop autism with 80% accuracy. Giving children brain scans, particularly those in high-risk families, could lead to children being diagnosed earlier, which opens up possibilities for big changes in the way autism is treated and diagnosed.
In the long run, something similar can be done for all infants if DNA testing advances enough to become a useful tool to identify children at high risk. If it can be diagnosed early, behavioural therapies such as those that train parents in new ways of interacting with an autistic child can be introduced earlier when they should be more effective.
Despite the potential theraphies, she warned that autism can be manifested in many different ways and no single test can likely identify potential autism in all children. The study also pours further cold water on the debunked claims that the MMR jab causes autism.