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Imaging reveals brain differences in autism

Autism has baffled scientists, medical professionals and parents for many years now.  It is often manifested as the regression or the lack of development of social and language skills and first signs are usually evident between 1 and 2 years of age. There have been many causes attributed to the development of autism spectrum disorders, including the role of vaccines. What we know so far is that this range of disorders is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and genetics plays an important role. The identification of onset of autism is typically assessed by observing behavioral changes in the infants. However, scientists have been looking for markers to characterize the onset of autism. Two recent studies have made great progress on this front and have exciting insights into the development of autism.

In a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, scientists have used imaging techniques to identify the changes to the white matter in the brains of infants even before the behavioral changes were evident. The scientists found that infants who developed autism spectrum disorders have aberrant development of the white matter pathways in the brain in 12 out of the 15 pathways measured. This imaging tool can be used to study how the brain develops in infants with a high risk of developing autism. The study is but a first step towards understanding how the brain pathways change during development.

More importantly, it may be possible to develop interventions at an early stage, even before the behavioral modifications are observed. And, this study raises the exciting possibility of developing biomarkers for detecting autism.

What are your thoughts and experiences with autism spectrum disorders? I am eager to read your ideas in the comments below.

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