Ultimately, they were able to correctly identify 80 percent of high-risk babies who were later given a diagnosis of autism at 24 months. They performed MRI scans when the children were six months, one year, and two years old. The team focused their work on babies with older siblings diagnosed with autism; these brothers and sisters have a 20% higher risk of also developing autism, compared to newborns without affected siblings.
Behavioral symptoms often become evident when children reach 2 to 4 years old but research suggests that those who receive the earliest treatment are likely to reap the most benefits.
"The results of this study are a real breakthrough for early diagnosis of autism", said Robert T. Schultz who directs the Center for Autism Research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and worked on the study published in the journal Nature.
"If we can target interventions before autism appears and before the brain changes appear, during a time when the brain is highly malleable or plastic, we can have a bigger impact on the outcome", Piven said. Now about 3 million people of all ages live with autism in the U.S.
However, she added: "One of the issues, at the moment, is when parents get an autism diagnosis, they don't get much information about what to do next".
"These findings not only are significant for the field of autism, but they also could inform the broader field of psychiatry and prevention science as it relates to various psychiatric conditions", Elison said.
In the course of action, the children, especially those in high-risk families, will undergo brain scans that will help to detect if there will be a possibility that a child has an autism disorder. There are about 3 million people with autism in the United States and tens of millions around the world.
This rapid growth can in fact predict whether a child will later be diagnosed with autism.
Brain scans can detect autism in children long before they display symptoms, a new study says, giving hope for the development of early testing and intervention methods. One consisted of 106 infants who were at a high risk of contracting autism.
For reasons scientists don't yet understand, an early growth in the outer layer of the front of the brain was the beginning of a pattern that led to larger brains in general, which have been associated with autism.
It shows that autism, which was once thought to be incurable, does have a solution provided that the treatment begins from the start. Other key collaborators are McGill University, the University of Alberta, the University of Minnesota, the College of Charleston and New York University.
Because researchers were able to identify brain changes earlier on in children's lives, they said they would potentially be able to develop therapies that could intervene sooner, while the brain is still developing. Once children have missed those developmental milestones, she added, catching up is a struggle for many and almost impossible for some.