New Research Facilitates Early Diagnosis for Autistic Language Impairments

An early prediction of good or poor language development in a child with autism is possible, according to a recent study published in the medical science journal Neuron. The prognosis is feasible through mapping brain activities in infants.

The Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, as it’s called, has a pretty wide range – a person on the spectrum might suffer from mild to acute autism. Therefore, some develop fairly good language skill as they grow up, whereas others don’t. The researchers believe that an early detection of the possible language outcome in children would act like a guiding map for their parents. They would be better equipped in determining the type of treatment their children need.

Researchers at Autism Centre of Excellence of the University of California, San Diago, compared brain activities of several autistic infants with a controlled group. As many as 60 infants with autism and 43 without have been monitored during the course of the study.

The researchers used a functional brain imaging or fMRI to capture images in the language-sensitive area of the brain as the infants listened to stories while they were asleep. The researchers kept track of the infants, who were 12 to 29 months at the beginning of the study, up until they grew a little older to learn more about their language skill and development.

Most of the infants with autism who had strong activities in the language-sensitive area of the brain developed fairly good language skill when they grew up. Others, who had minimal activities in their brain as compared to infants without ASD, grew up with poor language skill.

One of the major problems of autism is in its detection. A child is generally detected with autism at the age of four or five; some are detected even later. The neurological disorder does not begin suddenly at the age of four or five but merely becomes visible to us at that stage. Autism is primarily a genetic disorder.

Brain scan to detect autism language impairments
Eric Courchesne – Director, Autism CoE, UCSD School of Medicine

An earlier detection would give caregivers and parents enough time to design a specific program for the child“, said Professor Eric Courchesne, director of the Autism Centre of Excellence in the Department of Neuroscience of University of California, San Diago.

Until now most brain imaging studies have been conducted on much older subjects. Those studies, therefore, recorded the disorder well after its early developmental stages. This study focuses on the disorder at its very early stage. This is definitely another constructive step towards a true understanding of the spectrum disorder, concluded Professor Eric Courchesne.

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