Early Autism Diagnosis: Brain Scans Reveal Which Babies At High-Risk For Autism Development

By Amanda Moore, Parent Herald February 21, 04:00 am

Scientists were able to determine which babies are likely to be at high-risk for autism development. In a new study on early autism diagnosis, the brain scans helped the experts discover the links between siblings and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The study, published in the Nature journal, analyzed brain scans from babies taken within six to 12 months who either have siblings with autism or no history of autism in the family. From these babies, at least 106 were high-risk as they have an older brother or sister with autism and their brain biomarkers were studied further.

Experts were able to determine, through a machine-learning algorithm, which of these high-risk babies would eventually be diagnosed with ASD before they turn 2-years-old. The algorithm's accuracy is about 81 percent with four false-positives, according to Forbes.

A typical autism diagnosis isn't usually suspected until a child is 2-years-old. This is a period where the child can exhibit "consistent behavioral symptoms," study author Annette Estes said, according to Knowridge. In the U.S., children with autism usually get a confirmed diagnosis at age 4-years-old, on the average.

What this new study showed was that with the right tools, predicting ASD development earlier and even before it can progress can be possible. Unfortunately, the technology used in the study is not yet available for clinical diagnoses.

Experts suggested that in the absence of such tools, however, intervention methods for high-risk babies can still be done. Now that it's been determined babies with older siblings with autism are at bigger risk, some early prevention methods must be in place before the baby turns one.

"Parents of high-risk infants wouldn't need to wait for a diagnosis of ASD at two, three, or even four years," Estes said. "Researchers could start developing interventions to prevent these children from falling behind in social and communication skills," she added.

Around the world, one percent of the population live with autism spectrum disorder. In the United States, one in 68 births involve children with autism. Some 3.5 million Americans, both young and old, live and manage their ASD symptoms every day, according to Autism Society.

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