Breakthrough in Early Diagnosis of Autism

by on March 7th, 2015
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It may be possible to diagnose autism in infants as young as 6 months old, well before most begin to display signs of the disorder. Health Day reports that a recent study at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at UNC found differences in the way neural pathways in the brain develop in autistic infants.

By performing scans at 6 months, 1 year and 2 years of age, researchers were able to establish a “normal” pattern of development and also identify an “autistic” pattern that fit most of the children who were later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

It’s important to note that in some ADS kids the brain developed normally. There are also concerns that the differences between the two patterns are not conspicuous enough to lead to a standardized test for ASD.

What is ADS? According to the Centers for Disease Control, ADS is a group of related disorders that “affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to very severe.” While some sort of difficulty in handling social interactions is common in all ADS types, other symptoms may not effect every patient.

There are three types of ADS: Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Development Disorder. The most severe is Autistic Disorder or “classic” autism. Even within AD there are high and low functioning patients. People with Asperger syndrome have milder symptoms and usually normal language skills and intellectual ability. PDD is a diagnosis applied to those who meet some but not all of the criteria for the other two types. They are the highest functioning group.

What causes ADS? According to Autism Speaks, scientists now believe that most cases of autism are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In other words, genetics may predispose an individual to develop autism, but there is also some kind of environmental trigger at work.

Risk factors include: advanced parental age (in either parent), illnesses the mother has during pregnancy, certain drugs administered during pregnancy (thalimide or valproic acid), and oxygen deprivation during birth.

One thing both the CDC and Autism Speaks agree on is that autism is not caused by “parenting mistakes.” There is growing evidence that autism is less prevalent in babies whose mothers took a prenatal vitamin with folic acid prior to and during pregnancy.

An estimated 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with ADS. While there is no cure for ADS, the sooner children begin therapy for their symptoms, the higher their functionality becomes, according to the CDC. That’s why early detection is so critical.

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