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Detecting autism symptoms in babies as young as six months old can help to determine how the autism may develop in that child’s life. The researchers found that babies do indeed show signs of autism within the first year of their life. Their brain responds differently than normally developing babies when they are looked at directly or when someone looks away from them.
“The study is only a first step toward earlier diagnosis, but our findings demonstrate for the first time that direct measures of the brain functioning during their first year of life associate with later diagnosis of autism – well before the emergence of behavioral symptoms,” said Professor Mark Johnson, MRC scientist and head of the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck, lead of the study.
Most children are diagnosed with autism some time after the age of two. Johnson and his team studied babies aged six to ten months who had a sibling with autism. Autism runs in families and this increased the likelihood that the baby would have autism.
Researchers put passive sensors on the babies’ heads to monitor brain activity when they were looked at or looked away from. This is particularly important because face-to-face socializing is a very important factor in human interactions and behavior. The inability to maintain face-to-face contact is a hallmark of autism.
“At this age, no behavioral markers of autism are yet evident, and so measurements of brain function may be a more sensitive indicator of risk,” explained Johnson. While the study was not conclusive, the results were interesting enough to warrant more study.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Current Biology
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