Aiding Autism Diagnosis with Brain Scans

Diagnosing Autism Early

AutismEarly diagnosis of autism could lead to effective early intervention therapies, and brain scans may one day help experts determine an autism diagnosis earlier.[1]

Lead researcher Rajesh Kana, Ph.D. believes that brain connectivity as a neural signature of autism could eventually support clinical testing.1 Kana and colleagues found that the transfer of information between brain areas is weaker in people with autism.1 They found that brain connectivity data from 19 paths in brain scans predicted autism in participants with a 95.9 percent accuracy rate.1

Disrupted Brain Activity in Autism

Working with Gopikrishna Deshpande, Ph.D., from Auburn University’s MRI Research Center, Kana studied 15 high-functioning adolescents and adults with autism, as well as 15 typically developing participants.1 Results showed that adults with autism spectrum disorders processed social cues differently than participants without autism.1 This was due to the disrupted brain connectivity.1 According to Kana, there are consistent weaker brain regions due to the disrupted connectivity, which makes a clear difference.1

The participants in the study were also asked to choose the most logical of three possible endings to a comic strip vignette, while undergoing a functional MRI scan of brain activity.1 Most participants with autism had a difficult time finding the logical end to the scenario, which required an understanding of emotional and mental states.1

Looking to Aid in Autism Diagnoses

Kana and colleagues plan to continue their research.1 Within the next five to 10 years, they would like to work on finding objective ways to supplement the diagnosis of autism with medical testing and increasing the effectiveness of interventions to improve brain connectivity.1

Currently, autism is diagnosed through interviews and behavioral observation.1 Although it can be diagnosed in children as young as 18 months, most diagnoses occur between ages four and six.1 Therefore, autistic children face many challenges in school and social settings.1 According to Kana, the road to diagnosis is currently too long, causing parents to lose a great deal of critical intervention time.1 Although brain imaging may not be able to replace the current diagnostic measures, it may supplement them at an earlier age, leading to earlier treatment.1

[1] Nauert, R. (2013). Brain Scans May Aid Autism Diagnosis. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/10/21/brain-scans-may-aid-autism-diagnosis/60990.html

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