MRI Scans Help Doctors Understand Autism

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 - 10:41am

Researchers in California are doing work that could offer new insight into autism.

They are comparing images of autistic children's brains to those of children who do not have autism and found a major difference in brain development.

It's well known that autistic children have trouble communicating. The fact is, their symptoms go well beyond verbal problems, they may also get agitated easily, and have trouble learning. Despite the fact that autism is on the rapid rise, it now affects 1 in 110 children, we still do not know the cause.

We also did not understand what goes on in an autistic child's brain, and how it differs from brains of other children who do not have autism; until now.

A new study by UCLA researchers, led by Xue Hua and Fr. Jennifer Levitt of the Department of Neurology found a possible explanation for some autistic symptoms.

"We found developmental delays in the autistic brains when compared to healthy children,"
says Hua.

Hua and her colleagues discovered that by looking at computerized studies of brain images done on autistic and non-autistic children through adolescence.

"Behind me is a growth map derived from MRIs taken from a child who does not have autism over the course of a number of years. You can see the lit up areas are growth areas. If you take a look at the MRI growth map of the autistic child you see there is less and slower growth," says Dr. Bruce Hensel.

"Those are important for social and language skills. It offers possible explanation why autistic children act and think differently," says Hua.

That understanding may put some parents' minds at ease. These maps clearly show the difference is chemical or biological, and no one's at fault and the maps may ultimately lead to the development of new drugs that may help treat or even reverse those symptoms.

This is a major step forward, but it may just be the first step. While the science my help treatment, the understanding is sure to help many families.

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