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February 22, 2012
  Early signs of autism
The prospect of using brain activity recordings in infants as a way to predict their risk of autism may have come a step closer. A new longitudinal study, led by Mayada Elsabbagh at Birkbeck College, University of London, involved 54 babies aged 6 - 10 months with a family history of autism, and 50 age-matched controls, looking at dynamic faces that either turned their gaze towards the babies or away from them. A crucial finding was that recordings of the babies' surface brain activity during this task (and others) revealed group differences (Current Biology:

These early brain differences also had links with longer-term outcomes. The babies' families were contacted again at age 36 months, by which time 17 of the at-risk group had received a diagnosis of an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Looking back at the brain recordings taken at age 6 - 10 months, the researchers compared the subgroup who'd developed ASD against the at-risk babies who didn't develop ASD and the controls. Now brain activity differences were found specifically in the ASD group versus the at-risk group with no ASD and the controls. This time the differences were observed during the gaze-shift task only, not the other conditions, such as looking at a static face vs. no face.

An important detail is that differences between the ASD group and the other babies were not observed in their eye-scanning behaviour, including how much time they spent looking at the eye region of the face stimuli. This suggests the observed differences in brain activity were not simply a neural correlate of abnormal eye-movement patterns. However, the researchers do believe that the brain-activity differences they observed in the ASD infants are somehow related to social perception, leading to 'decreased attention to, or reduced interest in, the social world'. In turn, this is thought to have downstream effects on the emergence of typical developmental milestones. 'Taken together, our findings potentially allow for the early identification of those infant siblings who are at highest risk for developing later impairments, paving the way for the more selective targeting of early intervention efforts and procedures,' the researchers said.

-- Christian Jarrett

Edited: 22/02/2012 at 03:00 PM by jonsut

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    Posted By: Jon Sutton @ 22/02/2012 02:52 PM     News from the Psychologist  

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