Brain scans show potential to diagnose autism in infancy

Children with autism tend to be diagnosed around age 4, after a child begins to socialize and speak. But the earlier a child is diagnosed, the better. Early-intervention speech and behavioral therapy programs have shown promise at reducing symptoms. Now, new research shows such a diagnosis could be predicted as early as one year old — based on scans of infants’ brains.

Diagnosing autism very early in a child’s life might mean better interventions and outcomes. On average, children aren’t diagnosed with autism until they are four years old — once their brain has begun to expand, and once they begin behaving differently than neurotypical children — though some are diagnosed as early as their second birthday, Pletcher noted.

“Our findings are pre-symptomatic, certainly pre-consolidation of the diagnosis,” said Dr. Joseph Piven, who leads the eight-center Infant Brain Imaging Study Network, which did the research. “That’s a giant step in the field.”

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