Brain Activity May Help Predict Autism Before Age 1:
THURSDAY, Jan. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Infants younger than a
year old who are at risk of developing autism may already have
telltale brain responses when another person looks at or away from
them, the results of a new study indicate.
The researchers say that the findings suggest that assessing
brain responses in infants as young as 6 months may one day help
predict whether they'll develop autism at a later age. Currently,
firm diagnoses of autism are made only after a child is 2 years
old, according to the study in the Jan. 26 online edition of
"Our findings demonstrate for the first time that direct measures of brain functioning during the first year of life associate with a later diagnosis of autism -- well before the emergence of behavioral symptoms," study author Mark Johnson of Birkbeck College, University of London, said in a journal news release.
The study included infants aged 6 to 10 months who had an
increased risk of developing autism because they had an older
brother or sister with the disorder. The researchers monitored the
infants' brain activity while they viewed faces that switched
between looking at them and looking away from them.
Previous research has shown that characteristic patterns of
brain activity occur in a normal response to eye contact with other
people, a response that's crucial for face-to-face social
interaction. Older children with autism have unusual patterns of
eye contact and of brain responses to social interactions that
involve eye contact.
This study found that the brains of the infants at risk of
developing autism already process social information in a different
way than typically developing children.
"At this age, no behavioral markers of autism are yet evident, and so measurements of brain function may be a more sensitive indicator of risk," Johnson said.
However, the researchers noted that not all the babies who
showed these differences in brain function were later diagnosed
with autism, and vice versa. Brain-function measuring would need to
be further adjusted and used alongside other methods to serve as an
accurate predictor of autism in a clinical setting, the researchers
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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