Science-- there's something for everyone

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Early detection of autism


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically get diagnosed after the first year of life. This is much earlier than just a few decades ago, but not as early as health care professionals would like. Thanks to new research by Joseph Piven of the University of North Carolina and his colleagues, doctors may be able to push back the diagnosis of ASD to only six months of age.

As part of the Infant Brain Imaging Study, the researchers enrolled babies who had at least one autistic sibling and were thus considered to be at high risk for having ASD themselves.  The babies underwent brain scans at 6 months, 12 months and 24 months.  At 24 months, the children were evaluated for ASD symptoms.  A little over a third of the children ended up having ASD, the rest did not.  Even at six months, there were clear differences in the brain scans between the two groups of children.

The earlier children can be diagnosed with ASD, the more help they can receive during the first stages of their lives. These early interventions can make a huge difference in the progression of the disease.  Piven and his colleagues would like to extend their research to include infants younger than six months, to see just how early ASD detection can be made.