Research Indicates a Scan May Detect Autism at Just 6 Months

New research indicates MRIs may be able to predict a baby's risk of receiving an autism diagnosis later in life. 

MRI and autism study AkeSak/Shutterstock
If there were a technology that could predict your six-month-old's odds of being diagnosed with autism later in life, would you use it?

Such a technology might be in the works. According to new research published in Science Translation Medicine, brain function at six months may determine whether a child will be diagnosed as autistic at two years old, which is when traits of the condition typically emerge. 

The researchers behind this work believe that they can predict outcomes with 96 percent confidence based on MRI results. In the study, they reviewed MRIS of 59 infants, all of whom carried familial risk factors for autism, then observed these children at 24 months. The subjects were assessed for behavioral traits, language and motor skills, and the presence of repetitive behavior—and when they contrasted their results from both time frames, they were able to predict that the condition would surface in 9 of the 11 children who were eventually diagnosed, based on brain scans when they were six months old.

We imagine this topic will require lots of additional research before it becomes widely available, but for now, researchers have confidence in the predictive nature of this screening tool—and they believe these early screenings could improve the course for children with autism.

 “There are no behavioral features to help us identify autism prior to the development of symptoms, which emerge during the second year of life. But early intervention improves outcomes, so if in the future we could use MRI to identify children at ultra-high risk before they develop symptoms, we could begin treatments sooner," says co-senior author John R. Pruett Jr., MD, PhD in a news release.

While it's a tough subject either way, experts believe understanding your child's autism risk could lead to early intervention, which may in turn improve the outcome—and, of course, identifying the risk earlier may give families more time to prepare for the diagnosis and the experience of raising a child with autism. On the other hand, it's perfectly understandable to think a family would not want to undergo this sort of testing, especially if there are no risk factors present.

Would you consider doing this test on your little one?