Researchers seem to agree that early intervention for children diagnosed with autism is key to a better future for these children. Unfortunately, many families still remain in the dark much too long before autism is properly diagnosed and treated. In mid-May 2010, results of scanning procedures that could help speed detection and allow early, more effective intervention were explained at an international meeting.
Eric Courchesne, Ph.D., a Professor of Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and director of the University’s Autism Center of Excellence is the author of a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to peer at images of the children’s brains. The Autism community must be following closely the work of these researchers from the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence, who presented their findings at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia.
While the children were in the scanner, researchers played a repeating tape of a female voice reading a bedtime story and the scanner recorded the children’s brain activity. The study suggests that autistic children as young as 14 months use different brain regions than youngsters with more typical development when hearing these stories.
This research “Is going to tell us an awful lot about how the brain goes wrong in the first place and then gives us insight into how we’ll be able to help at an earlier age,” says Dr. Courchesne,”
In one of my previous posts, entitled Red Flag Signs of Autism, the symptoms in the category Communication problems and Social problems show the failure of language comprehension is a “red flag” for babies with autism.
It is known that the left side of the brain usually deals with the understanding of the meaning of words and that the right side helps to understand the social context of the language, like how the person speaking feels (angry, scared, happy…) when saying the words.
In this study, it showed typically developing babies had both the right and left temporal regions of the brain—parts that help us understand different aspects of language activated during the tests. To conduct the study the children were naturally asleep before being placed in the scanner.
During the tests it was shown that the use of the right brain was far stronger in babies and children showing signs of autism-spectrum disorders. Dr. Courchesne says: “One theory is that in autism, the right side is needed to learn the basic definitions of words, crowding out the ability to develop skills to process more social, nuanced aspects of language”.
According to Dr. Courchesne, learning when and where brain changes occur can help discover what causes or does not cause autism. If it were proven that brain differences were present at birth, the questions about environmental toxins and vaccine exposure during childhood would be answered.
Along with Dr. Courchesne, the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence brings together the expertise of over 40 scientists working collaboratively to discover a bio-behavioral “fingerprint” of what autism looks like in babies at 12-months.
As director of the UCSD Autism Center’s MRI Project on early brain development in autism, Dr. Courchesne’s efforts have produced new information about the structural, functional and genetic bases of this disorder.
Autism remains a behaviorally defined disorder and as such, is generally not diagnosed until age 3. Hopefully, studies like this one will soon result in earlier diagnoses, earlier treatment and a significant reduction in symptoms for affected children.
What were the first symptoms of autism you noticed in a child close to you?