Thursday, 22 December 2011

Exceptional autism brains

autism ribbon

As promised, this blog further demonstrates both the complexity of our brain and the relationship between brain and behaviour, this time with reference to Autism Spectrum disorders.

Autism Spectrum disorders (ASD) are pervasive developmental disabilities characterised by marked difficulties with social interaction and communication and restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours. As the name implies, the condition is on a continuum, meaning that the range and severity of the difficulties people with an ASD experience can vary widely.

There are a number of subtypes, the most common being autistic disorder and Asperger's disorder. ASDs are reasonably common, with as many as 1 in 110 children affected. They are more prevalent in boys than girls.

While there is no cure, the best possible outcomes are achieved through early intervention (such as social skills training), which is why getting a clear diagnosis is an important first step.

Research on ASDs is in its relatively early stages and there is still a lot of debate surrounding the cause, diagnosis and subtypes. One area of debate surrounds a subtype , sometimes referred to as regressive autism, where children develop normally until a certain age, at which point they not only stop developing in certain areas, but and they lose skills gained (such as the ability to communicate in age-appropriate ways).

The brains of boys with regressive autism are different

A ground-breaking study recently conducted at the MIND Institute at the University of California has found that compared both to children without ASD and to those with a different form of ASD, boys who go on to develop regressive autism show abnormal brain growth as early as four months of age. In "the largest study of brain development in preschoolers with autism to date", involving 180 subjects, it was found that these boys experienced a growth spurt during which their brains grew six percent larger between the ages of four and 19 months. There was no evidence of this occuring in girls.

The data was based on head circumference measurements taken from paediatric visits in infancy and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans done at age three. The boys with regressive autism had normal head circumference at birth. This significantly increased by as early as approximately four months and most commonly between four to six months, well before symptoms of ASD became evident.

The important outcome of this study, as noted by the researchers is that "rapid head growth beginning around four-six months of age may be a risk factor for future loss of skills"

The ability to detect possible autism from routine tests at such an early age is invaluable as the importance of early intervention can not be overstated. Neuropsychologists are involved in the diagnosis of ASD and can also assist in developing appropriate interventions. Clinical Psychologists, Psychologists, Speech Therapists and Occupational Therapists are also often involved in interventions for children with ASD and their parents.

Thanks again to Karen Wallace for alerting me to this fascinating article.

On behalf of Jamie Berry and the whole Advanced Neuropsychological team, we wish all our followers, readers and their families a wonderful holiday season. Stay safe!

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