Autism detectable in brain scans before symptoms show

A new study has claimed that brain scans can detect autism long before any symptoms start to emerge.

One in every 100 people has autism, which affects behaviour and particularly social interaction, with the earliest that children tend to be diagnosed at present is at the age of two.

Published in the journal Nature, the study looked at 148 children, including those at high risk of autism because they had older siblings with the disorder, and showed that the origins of autism are in the first year of life.

With all the participants having brain scans at six, 12 and 24 months old, the study uncovered early differences in the part of the brain responsible for high level functions like language - the cerebral cortex - in children who went on to be diagnosed with autism.

The researchers fed the brain scan images into an artificial intelligence. It was able to predict which children would develop autism with 80 per cent accuracy.

The research opens up possibilities for big changes in the way autism is treated and diagnosed with giving children brain scans the possibility of many children being diagnosed earlier.

Dr Heather Hazlett, one of the researchers at the University of North Carolina, told the BBC News website: "Very early in the first year of life we see surface brain area differences, that precede the symptoms that people traditionally associate with autism. So it gives us a good target for when the brain differences might be happening for children at high risk of autism."

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