Monday, July 23, 2012

Brain scans can help with early intervention for autism

New National Institutes of Health findings published in the American Journal of Psychiatry reveal significant differences in brain development in high-risk infants who develop autism starting as early as 6-months-old. Although autism is typically diagnosed around ages 2 or 3, this abnormal brain development can be detected during the infant's first year of life, before the appearance of autism symptoms.

From an article in Autism Society about the findings:
"The study followed 92 infants from 6 months to age 2. All were considered at high-risk for autism, as they had older siblings with the developmental disorder. Each infant had a special type of MRI scan, known as diffusion tensor imaging, at 6 months and a behavioral assessment at 24 months. The majority also had additional scans at either or both 12 and 24 months.

At 24 months, 30 percent of infants in the study were diagnosed with autism. White matter tract development for 12 of the 15 tracts examined differed significantly between the infants that developed autism and those who did not. Researchers evaluated fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure of white matter organization based on the movement of water through tissue. Differences in FA values were greatest at 6 and 24 months. Early in the study, infants who developed autism showed elevated FA values along these tracts, which decreased over time, so that by 24 months autistic infants had lower FA values than infants without autism."

These differences can be used as clues for early intervention, which can improve symptoms of autism such as problems with social interaction, behavior, and communication.

The article in Autism Society
Typical signs of autism

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