Two recent studies offer further insights in detecting autism in very young children. One study, by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, used computer analyses of MRI scans and found that the brains of the autistic children in the study have a distinctive topography.
Vinod Menon, a professor of neurology and psychiatry who led the Stanford study, even says that the study could yield a potential biomarker for autism, something that scientists and clinicians have been particularly interested in finding. Autism is currently diagnosed via behavioral observations by medical professionals and often not until children are three years old. Many contend that getting an autistic child started on therapies and treatments as soon as possible can make a significant impact on their development and future and would welcome a biological method to diagnose autism.
Scientists warn that the results are far from being applied to real children. But they could be used not just for diagnoses, but to refine treatments and offer a better understanding of how autism affects the brain. Dr. Antonio Hardan, a child psychiatrist and an author of the Stanford study said, “Older kids, you just talk to them and you know they have autism. But the 2-year-old where you don’t have a good idea what’s going on with him, whether he’s autistic or not, this tool could help…And having this kind of tool might also help you determine what kind of treatment the individual will be getting.”
The Stanford study looked at the brain scans of 24 autistic children between ages 8 and 18, and compared them with scans of 24 children without autism. The study sectioned the scans into tiny cubes and then used computer analysis to compare the size and structure of individual cubes in autistic and non-autistic brains. That allowed scientists to get a much more detailed picture of the specific areas that differ between the brains. The resulting brain maps applied to 80 to 90 percent of the children with autism. If the maps can be replicated in a larger group of children and in children at a younger age, they could be used to help diagnose autism.
Lucina Uddin, first author of a new study and instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, said that researchers could discriminate between “typically developing and autistic children with 92 percent accuracy,” according to the volume of gray matter in the brain.
The study has been published in Biological Psychiatry.
Another study about early detection of autism has yet to be published. It is based on findings presented at the British Psychological Society’s Developmental Section Conference in Newcastle, UK, according to Science Daily, and concerns detecting autism in 7-month-old children.
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