Despite all the headway that science has made in understanding autism in recent years, knowing which children will one day develop autism is still almost impossible to predict. Children diagnosed with autism appear to behave normally until around two, and until then there is often no indication that anything is wrong.
In a paper out Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Washington University School of Medicine scanned the brains of 59 high-risk, 6-month-old infants to examine how different regions of the brain connect and interact. At age two, after 11 of those infants had been diagnosed with autism, they scanned their brains again.
Using this method, researchers were able to accurately predict nine of the 11 infants who would wind up with an autism diagnosis. And it did not incorrectly predict any of the children who were not autistic.
“Our treatments of autism today have a modest impact at best,” said Joseph Piven, a psychiatrist at UNC Chapel Hill and author of the study, told Gizmodo. “People with autism continue to have challenges throughout their life. But there’s general consensus in the field that diagnosing earlier means better results.”