January 27, 2012
Autism Discoverable In Six-Month Old Children
A new study has shown that babies who develop autism show different brain responses within the first year of their life. The study may lead to tests that help doctors diagnose autism earlier in life.
Autism is a spectrum of disorders where patients have trouble communicating. The disorders range from mental retardation where patients have little ability to communicate to Aspberger´s Syndrome that affects the patients´ social development.
Dr. Mark Johnson of Birkbeck at the University of London, who led the study told Reuters, “Because there are no good behavioral signs at this young age (under 1 year), we wanted to see whether, by measuring the activity of the brain in a more direct way, we might be able to pick up earlier warning signs.”
Doctors usually wait until patients are about two-years old to diagnose autism, because speech and social skills typically do not develop until this life stage. But if they had the ability to diagnose it earlier they could intervene with developing coping skills earlier.
The study observed 104 babies at 6 to 10 months and then again at 3-years-old and found that the children with diagnosed autism had unusual brain patterns than those who did not have autism.
In the study brain activity was measured while the infant was shown pictures of faces with eye contact in different positions. Some of the pictures would look directly at the infant and others would be glancing in another direction.
The children who went on to develop autism showed little difference in brain activity while looking at the pictures. But the normally developing children showed a clear difference in brain activity between the pictures of someone making eye contact compared to a face looking away.
The researchers chose infants who had siblings that were already diagnosed with autism because they had a greater chance of developing the condition.
The test research is still not foolproof. Some of the infants exhibited little difference in brain activity and still developed normally, and consequently the opposite.
Johnson notes that more research is needed to confirm brain activity markers, but acknowledges the results as a first step to earlier autism diagnosis.
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