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A recent publication about efforts to find early indicators for autism recently came out in the journal Brain and reports an intriguing observation about brain size. The researchers sought to identify whether Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the brains of infants and very young children could help to predict which children would go on to develop autism. Like many pilot studies of this sort, the experiment was done simply by looking. The researchers identified a cohort of newborn siblings of autistic children and also a control cohort without that risk factor and began taking MRI images of their brains at the age of between 6-9 months, and again at 12-15 months and 18-24 months. Prior research has shown that having a sibling with autism greatly increases the probability that a child will also develop autism, so in this situation the expectation was that some of the sibling group would develop autism and researchers would retrospectively be able to look at the data collected during the study and identify MRI features that correlated with development of disease, should any exist.
The impetus behind this is that previous research has not shown any definitive behavioral clues in infants (6 months or younger) that predict the development of autism. However, the earlier a child is diagnosed, the earlier behavioral interventions can be applied to help that child and his or her family cope with future challenges. Continue reading