Until now, early detection and treatment of autism depended upon whether or not parents were able to detect the disease's earliest warning signs. And because early detection and treatment may help to interrupt autism's development and minimize future problems, many parents watch and wait breathlessly during their child's toddler years as they wait for their child to hit certain milestones — communicating verbally, socializing with other kids, thinking flexibly.
But new research may take the burden of detection off parents and allow health care providers to catch the development of autism earlier than ever.
According to researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the early signs of autism are visible in the brains of 6-month-old infants. Researchers looked at early brain development and found that tracts of white matter that connect different regions of the brain didn't form as quickly in children who later developed autism, compared with kids who didn't develop the disorder.
For the study, which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry
, university researchers performed brain scans on the brains of 92 infants, each of whom had a sibling with autism, when they were 6 months, 1 year and 2 years old. When the children were 2 years old, 28 had developed autism, while 64 had not. The researchers looked back at the early brain scans, to see if there were differences between the groups.
This is amazing research for families of children with autism. The findings suggest that there is potential to interrupt the disease and intervene with autism within a child's first year, improving a child's future outcome tremendously.