A new noninvasive test may provide highly accurate evaluations of an infant’s autism risk. The test, which combines the standard tool for recording electrical activity in the brain with special algorithms, has distinguished with 80-percent accuracy between nine-month-old infants known to be at high risk for autism and same-age controls.
Reported online in the journal BMC Medicine on February 22, the test, which captures early differences in brain organization and function, might help to identify early those infants at high risk for autism, allowing parents to begin behavioral interventions one to two years earlier than now possible.
William Bosl, a neuro-informatics researcher in the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program, and Charles Nelson, research director of the Developmental Medicine Center at Children’s Hospital Boston, recorded electroencephalographic, or EEG, activity from 79 babies aged 6 to 24 months both at rest and while watching bubbles being blown. Forty-six infants had an older sibling with an autism spectrum disorder; the others had no family history of autism.
When algorithms computed the density of neural connections in regions of the brain probed by the EEG, the researchers found different patterns of neural connectivity in the brains of infants at high risk for autism. The greatest difference was seen at nine months of age, when the higher-level social and communication skills begin developing.