Autism is a disease that is often detected by difficulties in socializing and communicating. A person with autism can exhibit repetitive and limited behavior. The most severe form of autism is called classical autism or ASD, and the less severe is Asperger’s. Diagnosing young children with autism is often difficult because doctors have to wait for symptoms. Recent studies involving brain scans may help doctors and parents diagnose children with autism sooner and allow them to begin treatment earlier.
Brain Scans Show Lack of Synchronization
Researchers from the Institute of Science in Israel have done a study involving brain waves and autistic children. They believe that autistic children can be diagnosed early through the use of brain scans.
The researchers compared the brain activity of autistic children and those that didn’t have autism. They found that autistic children had unsynchronized brain activity in the right and left parts of their brains. These areas were related to language.
The researchers made this discovering by studying the brain waves of toddlers while they were sleeping. Dr. Ilan Dinstein was the lead researcher on the study. Dr. Dinstein says, “In a normal brain, neurons in separate areas belonging to a system with a particular function, such as vision or language, always stay in sync, even during sleep.”
The researchers found that the brain waves of autistic children, when sleeping, were out of sync in comparison to those without autism.
The researchers believe that brain scans can help doctors diagnose autism at an early age. Children are often diagnosed, at earliest, at the age of 5. Using brain scans that search for unsynchronized brain activity can help doctors diagnose children as young as 1 year old.
Part of the difficulty of diagnosing autism at an early age is being able separate autistic symptoms from other developmental problems. A child may simply have trouble communicating or have another disorde. Making a diagnosis based on these symptoms could lead to misdiagnosis.
Dr. Dinstein says, “So one of the reasons to look for a biological measure is to clarify the issue of diagnosis very early on.”
Responding to Sound
Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia also conducted a study involving brain scans and autistic children. They found that autistic children responded to sound slower and this registered on brain scans.
The team used magneto encephalography (MEG) scans that picked up on the magnetic fields of the brain. They placed helmets on the autistic children, and they heard different beeps and sounds. When the children responded to these sounds, the helmets scanned their brains for responses.
The study showed that autistic children responded to sound with an 11-millisecond delay. Dr. Timothy Roberts was the lead researcher in the study. Dr. Robert says, “An 11-millisecond delay is brief, but it means, for instance, that a child with ASD, on hearing the word ‘elephant’ is still processing the ‘el’ sound while other children have moved on.”
He says that these delays can be exaggerated when put into the context of a conversation. While their peers are talking, an autistic child will continue to struggle when trying to keep up with changing topics.
Researchers are not clear on what exactly causes autism, but they believe that detecting autism earlier can lead to better treatment. They say that autistic children who receive diligent training and education very early on can possibly double their IQ. This approach may produce results within a two-year period.
Autism in Children: Un-synchronized Brain Activity
Autism in Children: Delays in Hearing Sound
Autism in Children: Autism in the United States