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AKIPRESS.COM - Brain scans can detect autism long before any symptoms start to emerge, say scientists.
The earliest that children tend to be diagnosed at present is at the age of two, although it is often later, BBC reported.
The study, published in the journal Nature, showed the origins of autism are much earlier than that - in the first year of life. The findings could lead to an early test and even therapies that work while the brain is more malleable.
One in every 100 people has autism, which affects behaviour and particularly social interaction. The study looked at 148 children including those at high risk of autism because they had older siblings with the disorder. All had brain scans at six, 12 and 24 months old.
The study uncovered early differences in the part of the brain responsible for high level functions like language - the cerebral cortex - in children who went on to be diagnosed with autism.
Dr Heather Hazlett, one of the researchers at the University of North Carolina, told the BBC News website: "Very early in the first year of life we see surface brain area differences, that precede the symptoms that people traditionally associate with autism.
"So it gives us a good target for when the brain differences might be happening for children at high risk of autism."
The study opens up possibilities for big changes in the way autism is treated and diagnosed.
Giving children brain scans, particularly those in high-risk families, could lead to children being diagnosed earlier.
In the long run, it might be possible to do something similar for all infants if DNA testing advances enough to become a useful tool to identify children at high risk.
If it can be diagnosed early, then behavioural therapies such as those that train parents in new ways of interacting with an autistic child can be introduced earlier when they should be more effective.