Autism Signs Visible in Newborns' Brains
Autism makes itself known as early as the first year of life, British scientists say. According to Reuters, researchers at the University of London found that autistic children exhibited different brain responses as babies than did children without the condition.
Lead researcher Mark Johnson said he hopes the study will help physicians predict the future risk of autism in babies as young as six months old. Currently, doctors use behavioral signs to diagnose the condition, but these signs are not usually observable before the child reaches two years of age.
“Because there are no good behavioral signs at this young age, we wanted to see whether, by measuring the activity of the brain in a more direct way, we might be able to pick up earlier warning signs,” Johnson told Reuters.
For the study, the team looked at 104 babies whose age ranged from six to 10 months. Researchers placed passive sensors on the babies’ scalps in order to register brain activity while they observed responses to eye contact. The babies viewed faces that switched from looking at them to looking away, Reuters said. The children were examined again when they turned three.
Researchers said that those who went on to develop autism showed much less difference in brain activity while babies when someone made eye contact and looked away from them.
Johnson said he plans to conduct further research to confirm the connection between brain activity and autism, but believes he and his team have taken a first step toward earlier autism diagnoses.