Autism is not just one thing. Some researchers have even compared it to conditions like cancer — there are many possible causes, and the autism science community is hoping to pin down its etiology and hopefully find a cure or the best treatment possible. It’s called the “autism spectrum” for a reason, and the term encompasses a great variety of disabilities and abilities.
With the CDC’s announcement that an estimated one in 88 children has autism comes an urgent drive to solve the autism mystery. The research community is looking at brain scans as a means of determining what goes wrong in early brain development.
Most children with autism are not diagnosed until about age 4, but we know that early intervention is often the key to a successful life. Researchers suggest that in a decade, autism science will be advanced enough to diagnose autism much earlier.
A decade might seem like a long time, especially for parents who really want results now. However, researchers do suggest that their findings from these brain studies will also help individuals with autism even in their adolescent years. Some recent research also points to the idea of “late bloomers,” meaning many children with autism “outgrow” their symptoms or show improvements even into their teen years.
Advances in autism science technology include brain imaging, stem cell science, and gene sequencing. Scientists say mapping out the genetic blueprint of a child with autism will be cheaper in a few years than taking the child to a behavioral therapist for an examination and diagnosis.
Most people are familiar that the autism logo is made up of puzzle pieces, and autism science attempts to put those pieces together. At this time, they do not all quite fit into one logical picture. Some researchers suggest autism is made up of several related disorders, all with similar symptoms but different causes. There is not one unified theory of autism, but many researchers agree looking at the brain is a key step to solving the mystery.
Many researchers also say the brain of a child with autism looks quite normal, even for a child with extreme symptoms such as self-injurious and non-verbal behavior. Scientists, then, are looking at the “wiring” between the brain regions and even down to a chemical level.
Some researchers are even taking ordinary skin cells from individuals with autism and transforming them to stem cells, and using these cells to create neurons. This research allows scientists to basically “create” a brain to investigate the neurons, synapses, and relay of chemical messages.
Autism science is also turning to EEGs — studies show that the brains of children with autism do not respond differently to images of people looking at the child rather than those looking away, which might explain why the symptom of poor eye contact is prevalent amongst children with autism. This EEG pattern is noticeable even by age 6 months, which also helps improve early autism risk detection. Since individuals with autism do not show outward signs until about 2 years of age, finding possible risks earlier will help allow children to receive early care.
The hope of this research is that if autism can be detected earlier, it can be prevented — autism science could reach a point where it could change the course of brain development.
Photo by Patrick Hoesly
Source: USA Today