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New method for predicting autism in children

By Tim Sandle     Jun 5, 2013 in Health
Researchers have put forward a method for predicting autism in infants by examining how their brain reacts as they attempt to speak and process language.
The study involved a group of more than 40 two-year-old infants. The group was a mix of infants who displayed slight autism, some with developed autism, and some without. The children were fitted with elastic caps containing an array of sensors. Once the electronic recording devices were in place, the children were played recordings of a mixture of familiar and new words.
The researchers found that infants with less severe symptoms showed brain responses that were similar to typically developing children. Both of these groups exhibited a strong response to known words in a language area located in the temporal parietal region on the left side of the brain.
However, with those children with more severe social impairments, the children displayed brain responses more broadly over the right hemisphere. Therefore different parts of the brain were functioning between the different groups. The study suggests that a means of predicting autism outcomes among infants could be developed by tracking their mental response to language.
The researchers concluded that those with more typical brain responses to words at age two were more likely to experience an improvement in skills by age six; whereas those with atypical brain responses were likely to struggle.
Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old
Study author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, is quoted as saying: "This line of work may lead to new interventions applied early in development, when the brain shows its highest level of neural plasticity."
The research has been published in the journal PLOS ONE. The paper is titled “Brain Responses to Words in 2-Year-Olds with Autism Predict Developmental Outcomes at Age 6.”
More about Autism, Aspergers syndrome, Brain, Language, Development
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