Researchers believe they have found one of the earliest so-called biomarkers for autism in babies just six months old, according to a story in The Seattle Times Saturday.
The research was conducted by the University of Washington and several other sites, and the study was prompted by the fact that preschoolers with autism have larger heads than their classmates. Researchers wanted to find out what was going on the autistic kids’ brains to cause this.
The University of Washington, by the way, is one of the multiple sites for the Infant Brain Imaging Study.
As part of the study, MRI scans were performed on sleeping 6-month-old infants’ brains, according to The Seattle Times. And the eureka moment was that way before these babies would even be showing any symptoms of autism, they “already has marked differences in their brains’ ‘wiring,’ the white matter that connects different regions,” The Seattle Times reported.
The goal of that study, and other autism research, is to diagnose the disorder as soon as possible so that the children who have it can get help. The researchers told The Seattle Times that if doctors can pin down the part of the brain linked to autism, they can target such areas for treatment.
Currently, the primary intervention for autism is behavorial therapy, and the sooner that starts, “the more likely it is to alter autism’s grip on a child,” one expert told The Seattle Times.
The study involved a lot of work, including getting infants to take a nap in an MRI tube at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Researchers would later compare the scans of babies who show autistic symptoms at 24 months and those that didn’t.
The difference, according to The Seattle Times, was in the “white-matter fiber tract development,” namely the network that connects different parts of the brain.
Some parents of autistic children have hopes that there is just one autism gene, The Seattle Times reported. But the disorder appears to be much more complicated than that.
The Seattle paper cited a recent study that found that women with diabetes or who are very overweight are more likely to have children with autism.
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sparked a debate when they released figures that said autism had increased 78 percent during the past 10 years. The question is whether the disorder is happening more often, or if it is being detected more frequently.