RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Autism affects one in 68 children—and if a child has a sibling with autism the rate goes up to 20 out of 100.
A new study published in the last week now provides evidence that brain scans can actually predict autism in infants prior to diagnosis—this is important in that early identification and treatment of autism can make a huge difference for these children.
- What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder is a serious neurological developmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. We use the term “spectrum” in autism in order to better describe the wide range of symptoms and severity. While there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, intensive, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children.
- Tell us about this study and what it found:
In the study (which was performed at UNC-Chapel Hill), researchers performed MRI scans of the brains of infants who were considered high risk for autism—those with older siblings with autism spectrum disorder—and found that there were particular structural findings in these MRI scans that helped them predict which children would later be diagnosed with autism. In fact, the scans allowed, researchers to correctly predict 80 percent of those infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 2 years of age.
- Why is early detection so important?
First of all, by identifying the brain changes early, there’s the potential to develop therapies that could intervene sooner, while the brain is still developing. Early diagnosis of autism is critical because the sooner the disorder is recognized, the sooner families and doctors can begin intervention strategies such as behavioral and communications therapies, and more likely the child is to achieve a better outcome. In fact, one study published in 2014 found that if intervention begins as early as the first six months of life, it can significantly improve a child’s condition and possibly even eliminate symptoms altogether.