Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), has continued to rise in numbers. The former 1 in every 68 children has now risen to affecting 1 in every 59 children. There has never been a reliable way to predict the onset of autism within a child. Scientists from the University of North Carolina and Chapel Hill and Washington University School of Medicine performed a study to predict this onset very early in life.
An fMRI machine was used to scan the brains of 59 infants while sleeping. Of the 59 infants, 18 were female and 41 were male. Each infant in the study was six-months old and had an older sibling who was diagnosed with ASD. Infants were excluded from the study if they had any previous genetic conditions, premature birth, low birth weight, maternal substance abuse, contraindication for MRI, or family history of psychosis, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. The fMRI recorded brain functions based on the fluctuations of blood flow in the brain. Each infant was scanned twice, ensuring no head movement interfered with the imaging.
When the infants reached 24 months of age, they underwent behavioral assessments. The results of the various assessments were analyzed by clinicians for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Questionnaires were also filled out by the parents of the children in the study. Assessments given resulted in information regarding their cognitive, behavioral, and developmental abilities. These assessments helped to identify the validity of the brain scans. The brain scans from when they were six-months-old were then compared to the results of their behavioral assessments at 24-months-old. This included their social interactions, communication, motor development, and repetitive behavior.
The scores of the assessments were plotted on a graph. There was a clear linear separation between those with ASD and those without ASD. A correlation between infants’ brain activity and their repetitive and social behaviors was found by the researchers. Early brain activity in infants can accurately predict the diagnosis of ASD later in life. The study correctly predicted the diagnosis of nine out of eleven babies. It also correctly predicted the absence of diagnosis of ASD in all 48 infants. This study is able to be generalized to a new sample of infants. The findings in the study need to be tested and expanded more in the future. The prediction of ASD at 24-months-old may be too young, but it does correlate correctly. This test is very expensive, so as advancements are made in the future, this imaging can be done when there are genetic and screening technologies that indicate a strong likelihood of the child having ASD.
I actually really enjoyed this project overall. I was able to learn more about a disorder that I am very passionate about. Taking on the role of a journalist was actually a lot harder than I expected it to be. We had a deadline just as a journalist would have. However, that was not the hard part. The hard part of this paper was scrunching 9 pages of information into 460 words. There was a lot of important information from the actual research study that I had to leave out. I left out all of the different assessments that were given to each child. These assessments held a lot of information as to what autism consisted of and the signs that they looked for. I opted for just generalizing the assessments that were given and a few of the behaviors that they looked for in them. I also had to leave out information regarding how they took the brain scans. Each scan was taken at a certain magnification, direction, weight, angle, and other factors. The images were taken in frames. This allowed for the researchers to discard any frames that contained movement of their head. They then compiled the rest of the frames for the correlative analysis. Although I was not able to include this type of information in the journal article, I do think that I was able to touch upon the main parts of the study. I think that journalists have a hard job. They are responsible for summarizing a huge study into just a few hundred words. They need to be certain to include only the most important pieces of information in order to meet their number of words that are allowed.
Link to Scholarly Article: http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/9/393/eaag2882