Scanning brains may catch autism soon

New statistics show autism affects one in 88 children in the United States. Catching the brain disorder early is key in treating the problem, but now special imaging may help detect autism sooner.

Siblings have a one in five chance of developing autism.

In a new study, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill used a special kind of MRI imaging called diffusion tensor imaging to look at 15 brain connections of babies who had a sibling with autism. They found significant differences in 12 of the 15 connections in those who developed autism. Children without the disorder had stronger connections. Children with autism had weaker connections.

"The children who went on to have autism, we can see differences as early as six months, and that over time, their brains changed less," said Dr. Jason Wolff.

Right now, it is almost impossible to diagnose autism at six months, but the scans could offer a way to catch it much earlier.

"This is really before we can pick up any differences behaviorally. If we could go earlier and earlier in our interventions, we could prevent autism from fully manifesting," said Dr. Wolff.

Dr. Wolff says the imaging could one day be used with behavioral exams, which are the current standard, to better diagnose autism. The hope is to catch it before signs start to show.

A recent study published in Pediatrics found when children as young as 18 months underwent therapy for autism, their IQ improved by 14 points compared to other kids with autism.

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