A study carried out by the University of Carolina has revealed that MRI scans could help to detect early signs of autism.
Brain enlargement is a common sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), however the age at which this begins has remained unclear until this point.
“Studies of infants at high familial risk of autism can provide insight into the early development of autism and have shown that characteristic social deficits in ASD emerge during the latter part of the first and in the second year of life,” the science journal Nature reported.
ASD is a category which includes five different developmental disorders which affects social communication and interaction.
Aspergers syndrome, Autistic disorder, Pervasive developmental disorder and Rett syndrome are all under the ASD category and have differing severities and patterns.
The signs of Autism are usually diagnosed when a child is around aged 2, when behavioural problems are evident.
In the study 106 infants at high-risk and 42 infants at low risk had the cortical surface area of their brain observed.
It found that the cortical surface of the brain had grown faster within infants of six and 12 months who had been later diagnosed with ASD at 24 months.
The team developed a computer algorithm based on their findings, to predict which infants will develop ASD with an accuracy of 80%.
Fifteen children in the trial had a positive diagnosis at 24 months.
The impact of the research could lead to an improvement of the disorder in the earlier stages than treatments offered after diagnosis.
The Autistic Society for The Greater Manchester Area is a society who provide supports for carers and parents of Autism sufferers as well as direct support for people with Autism spectrum conditions.
“An early diagnosis would be so beneficial for the family and young person involved, as some of our members didn’t receive a diagnosis until their teens, Paul Nugent, a spokesperson for the society said.
“Imagine the difference this could make, the support and provisions that could be put in place during early learning years, school, for their social development and understanding of the world around them.”
Researchers concluded that this could be a breakthrough in early intervention of ASD, however further research would be needed before this method could be used as a clinical tool.