Researchers have experienced some positive results with a new test which uses a brain scan and could help identify babies under 1 with autism before it develops.
The scan utilizes standard brain screening and focuses on those young babies who are at a higher risk of developing autism because a sibling has it. The new breakthrough is helping to fill in a serious gap in screening and identifying autism in children. The biggest problem with identifying children with autism is that they don’t show any signs of the disorder until they are almost two years old.
Researchers have used the scan to look at the surface area and thickness of different parts of a child’s cerebral cortex as well as the shifting size. They measure against normal sizes at both the six and twelve-month marks of a child’s development.
"These findings suggest a cascade of brain changes across the first two years of life that result in the emergence of autism at the end of the second year," said senior study author Dr. Joseph Piven. Dr. Piven is the director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
The team studied their new screening test on approximately 150 young children, 100 of which were already identified as being at high risk of developing autism, because of their family history. Dr. Piven stated that children who have older siblings with autism are up to five times more at risk of developing autism themselves.
Once researchers had conducted the scans at the six and twelve-month marks, the results were then inputted into a computer program. The computer used two observations to determine its prediction.
First – Infants who develop autism by age two appear to undergo relatively high brain-surface growth between ages six months and one year.
Second – High brain surface area growth in the first year of life is linked to a higher overall brain size in the second year of life.
The results were that the computer program was successfully able to accurately predict autism in eight out of ten of those babies who developed autism by age two. The approach was nearly perfect in predicting which high-risk babies would not develop autism by age two. Dr. Piven was cautious to advise that the tests were still in the experimental stage.