A new study from the Infant Brain Imaging Network, which includes researchers at the Center for Autism Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia(CHOP), found significant differences in brain development starting at age 6 months in high-risk infants who later develop autism, compared to high-risk infants who did not develop autism.
"It's a tremendously exciting finding," said Sarah Paterson, PhD, director of the Infant Neuroimaging Lab at CHOP's Center for Autism Research. "We found that the brains of the children who developed autism were markedly different even prior to the onset of behavioral symptoms of autism. Thus, our findings, while requiring replication, are a very important first step towards identifying a biomarker for autism risk. This would enable specialists to diagnose autism much earlier than what is currently possible through behavioral observations."
The study also suggests that autism does not appear suddenly in young children but instead develops over time during infancy, note the authors. Intensive early intervention has been shown to improve outcomes in children with developmental delays and autism.
"This research raises the possibility that we might be able to intervene even before a child is 6 months old, to blunt or prevent the development of some autism symptoms," said Paterson.
The study was published February 17th in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Its results are the latest from the ongoing Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS), which is led at CHOP by Dr. Paterson and Robert Schultz, PhD, who are co-authors on this study.