Parents having children with autism are often anxious about younger siblings having the same diagnosis. And if they do have autism, parents are more likely to want to start earlier interventions. It looks as though recent studies will make this more likely for parents. In a study published in Nature, researchers were able to use MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) in infants with autistic older siblings, to correctly predict 80 percent of those infants who would later meet the criteria for autism at age 2.
It is estimated that one out of 68 children develop autism in the United States. For infants with older siblings with autism, the risk may be as high as 20 out of every 100 births. Most children are not diagnosed with autism until they reach 24 months. As experts have observed, the earlier the diagnosis the better the outcome of the child.
For this Nature study, Piven, Hazlett, and researchers from around the country conducted MRI scans of infants at six, 12, and 24 months of age. They found that the babies who developed autism experienced a hyper-expansion (over-growth) of brain surface area from six to 12 months, as compared to babies who had an older sibling with autism but did not themselves show evidence of the condition at 24 months of age. Increased growth rate of surface area in the first year of life was linked to increased growth rate of overall brain volume in the second year of life. Brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year.
This is great news for parents who already have a child with autism, and are having or thinking about having another baby. The earlier in development a child is exposed to the right conditions the more likely it is that the child will succeed. If a child is exposed to books and is read to from infancy, it is more likely that child will develop a love for reading. Along the same lines, if a child’s brain is at risk for specific brain changes that cause autism, exposing them to the right therapies and social environments has the potential to alleviate those social deficits and symptoms of autism.
Brainjogging is one such intervention, and can be done as early as 3 years old. When done twice a day, the cognitive exercises help to sync the brain’s pathways. In the case of autism, many children experience overstimulation, where multiple neurons are firing at once. This can make even the simplest task seem complicated. After Brainjogging, children with autism are able to focus on the task in front of them. The younger a child starts interventions like Brainjogging, the more likely it is that the child will overcome learning difficulties and deficits.
“Early brain development in infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder”, Nature 542, 348–351 (16 February 2017)