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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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MRI Scans May Help Test for Autism

Study Shows New Test Using MRIs May Be Useful in Diagnosis of Autism

More Work Needed on Test continued...

The new MRI test is not the only medical or biological diagnostic test for autism in development. Blood and urine tests are also being looked at in the U.S. and abroad, as are other imaging tests.

While it’s not yet clear which test -- if any -- will make it to the finish line, autism experts agree that there is a need for a medical test to help diagnose autism.

“We don’t really know what autism is, and all we have at present is a subjective test that is used to diagnose the disorder which involves four-hour interviews with parents and one hour spent observing the child,” Lange says.

This test only measures the child’s behavior and cognitive ability and is subject to a doctor’s call, he says.

Adriana Di Martino, MD, an assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, is cautiously optimistic about the new findings.

But, Di Martino says, “before we talk about a test that can be used clinically, we need [to study] a large group of subjects with autism and other diseases.”

“I would not go saying there is now a test to diagnose autism with MRI, but we may get there in the future,” she says.

“A really accurate and valid test or biomarker will aid the process, but it is unlikely that this will substitute for the work of a psychologist,” she says. “The work of the psychologist in observing the child is still crucial.”

Such a test could also lead to earlier diagnosis than is currently possible, she says. Autism signs can sometimes be picked up at 18 months or younger, but a reliable diagnosis is usually not made before a child turns 2.

Treatment Potential

Earlier diagnosis and intervention can have dramatic effects on treatment outcomes among some children with autism, she says.

That would be an important use for a test like the one in the new study, saysKevin Pelphrey, PhD, the Harris Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

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