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Telltale Signs of Autism as Early as 6 Months

Researchers Spot Differences in Brain Development in Infants Who Go on to Develop Autism

Brain Changes in Autism: Study Details continued...

"We looked at 15 different connections and 12 of those showed abnormal connections in the kids who developed autism," says researcher Geraldine Dawson, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and another study co-author.

"These results are preliminary and we are not at a point yet where we can use these imaging techniques to screen for autism," she says.

The study reinforces the idea that autism unfolds over time, rather than developing overnight after some trigger, Piven and Wolff tell WebMD.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development, Autism Speaks, and the Simons Foundation. Dawson is chief science officer for Autism Speaks, an advocacy and research organization. One co-author, Alan C. Evans, PhD, reports a consulting fee from Biospective, an imaging contract research organization. He has an equity position in the firm, as founder.

Brain Changes in Autism: Perspective

The new finding about brain changes in autism is an important clue, says Christine Wu Nordahl, PhD, assistant adjunct professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and an autism researcher at the M.I.N.D. Institute, University of California, Davis.

"To try to find out any sorts of brain changes that are happening prior to the diagnosis is really critical for the field," she tells WebMD. She reviewed the findings but was not involved in the research.

One limitation, she says, is the lack of a ''low-risk" group for comparison. All the infants had older siblings with ASDs. That puts them at higher risk than other children. The researchers also note this limitation.

"We're a step closer to understanding the brain changes that may be happening before the clinical diagnosis is made," Nordahl says. Eventually, these earlier clues may lead to earlier intervention. "That's what we are hoping for.”

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