Many researchers, scientists, doctors, therapists, parents,
and caregivers agree that early intervention is the key to improving autism
symptoms and helping children with autism reach a high-functioning state. But can we detect autism early enough
to make an impact?
Dr. Ledbetter at LSU Health Shreveport is investigating if
brain changes and functioning can be seen after cognitive skills training, and
through the use of MRIs and brain imaging, this study shows the impact of
cognitive intervention. Other
studies around the world are looking at the brain for answers.
While autism is typically not diagnosed before age 2,
researchers now suggest they can detect signs of autism as early as 6 months of
age. Researchers reporting for the
American Journal of Psychiatry
introduce fractional anisotropy, which measures the density of white matter in
the brain, which is responsible for neuropathways and connections between
various regions of the brain.
This brain imaging technology measures the diffusion of
water through nerves to determine the density of myelin, which coats each
nerve, connects nerves together, and suggests the density of neural connections
within the brain. The study
involves 92 children from the Brain Imaging Study Network -- all infants were
considered at high-risk for autism due to elder siblings with the
disorder. Scientists measured
brain density at ages 6, 12, and 24 months, and compared the results to those
children who ended up with a diagnosis of autism.
Results show that those children with an autism diagnosis
had thicker and denser nerve fibers at 6 months of age than those who did not
receive the diagnosis. However,
over time the condition reversed, and by age 2, the white matter was thinner
than those who did not develop autism.
These results suggest there is something going on within the
brain before behavioral symptoms develop -- the brain is not developing
normally for individuals with autism.
This biological process is not limited to one region of the brain, which
make sense due to the fact that autism symptoms affect language and behavioral
interactions, which involve many areas of the brain and their connections.
This study is meant to identify those children with the
highest risk for autism, and future studies will investigate children without a
familial history of autism. More brain
imaging and study in this area will also lead to better therapies and
treatment, and early detection will lead to early intervention.
Photo by jgmarcelino