Autism early detection study says brain scan could catch signs earlier

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An estimated one out of every 88 children is now being diagnosed with autism, but experts are hoping to improve their chances of early detection with a new, non-invasive test.

A newly released study by researchers at Boston Children's Hospital found that children with so-called "classic" autism have 33 consistent differences in the connection between certain parts of their brain. The study suggests that a technique called electroencephalography, or EEG, could become the key to earlier detection.

The EEG, which monitors a child's electrical brain activity, could allow for early intervention in cases of classic autism.

"The finding was the areas that are close to each other, like one area in the brain close to another area in the brain, had less connectivity and less similarities," Dr. Jack Cochran, the Medical Director of Neuroscience and Stroke at Inova Fairfax Hospital, said. "More remote parts of the brain had more similarities and connectivity."

These findings could lead to the ability to diagnose children as young as 2 years old in the future. For Vienna resident Christine Jacobs and her autistic son, Conor, the findings are a little too late, but she says that embracing the way their children are is pivotal in any circumstance.

"I would advise the parents to just love the child and not to be so worried about diagnosing," she said. "(Don't) be so worried about diagnosing and treatment plans, so they forget to learn and discover and embrace the joy of the child they have."

Conor was diagnosed with autism after he turned 3 years old after being born two months prematurely. Christine says that he didn't make eye contact or respond to his name at all.

"I can't take my eyes off of him for a minute, not even to unload the dishwasher," she said.

In the meantime, doctors are optimistic about the research, but Cochran says that parents should run out for the EEG yet.

"I think it needs to be verified in follow-up studies, particularly comparing children with autism to children with other medical and physical problems," Dr. Cochran said.

Researchers say they plan to repeat their brainwave study, but in this go-around, they'll compare children with classic autism to those with Asperger's syndrome.