Researchers may be able to predict which babies will develop autism before they turn one. Currently, the earliest that children are diagnosed is at the age of two.
148 Children Were Given Brain Scans
Brain scans were given to 148 children – including those who are at a high risk of autism, such as those who have older siblings with the disorder.
These children had a scan at six, 12 and 24 months old, reveals the study, which was published in the Nature journal.
And researchers at the University of North Carolina found that there are early differences in the part of the brain responsible for high level of functions, like language, in the children who went on to be diagnosed with autism.
In fact, the brain scans were able to predict which children would develop autism with 80% accuracy.
“Very early in the first year of life we see surface brain area differences, that precede the symptoms that people traditionally associate with autism,” researcher Dr Heather Hazlett told the BBC News.
“So it gives us a good target for when the brain differences might be happening for children at high risk of autism.”
This discovery could lead to better tests and therapies.
“Now we have the possibility that we can identify those who are most likely to go on to to get autism,” says researcher Prof Joseph Piven.
“That allows us to consider intervening before the behaviours of autism appear, I think there’s wide consensus that that’s likely to have more impact at a time when the brain is most malleable and before the symptoms have consolidated. So we find it very promising.”
The findings come as there have been recent calls for earlier autism diagnosis for Aussie kids.
For more information on the signs of autism and the help available, head to Autism Awareness Australia.