Scientists find way of identifying signs of autism in very young babies
In the future, it will only become easier to diagnose and manage conditions like autism in your little one.
Parents, we know that autism is a worrying condition for parents whose children have it. One of the things parents would like to know about are early signs of autism in children.
Science has made new progress in doing just this, with researchers identifying early signs of autism in babies as young as four- to six-month-olds.
In a recent study, researchers found a new, early indicator of autism in babies. It seems that the brain activity of babies with autism are different when presented with social (related to people) and non-social (related to inanimate objects) prompts.
Researchers from a variety of universities used neuroimaging technology to assess the brain activities of four- to six-month-old infants.
The scientists presented them with four prompts:
- videos of people (playing peek-a-boo, for example)
- videos of objects (like cars)
- human sounds, like yawning and laughing
- non-human made sounds, like running water
Next, they compared the scans of babies who had siblings on the autism spectrum, and those without. Since autism has strong genetic links, it’s likelier for small children who have autistic siblings to grow up with it.
Finally, scientists contrasted the infant’s results and their siblings’ results.
They discovered a clear difference in those children who later grew up without autism. They had increased brain activity when presented with social prompts (human sounds and videos) rather than the non-social prompts.
In contrast, infants at risk of having autism showed the reverse. They had reduced brain activity when prompted with videos or sounds of people. In fact, they had greater brain activity when shown pictures of still objects.
This is the first study that links functional brain responses before a baby is six months old, with a later diagnosis of autism in toddlerhood.
Dr Sarah Lloyd-Fox from Birkbeck’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, who led the study, believes knowing how to diagnose autism early clearly has its advantages.
She explains that with this knowledge, paediatricians can help families in two ways. First, doctors can manage the condition quickly. Secondly, they can also give families the appropriate methods of supporting a child with autism, early.
“This might mean giving the child and parents new strategies to reengage their attention towards important social cues and learn different ways of interacting,” she clarifies.
It’s reassuring that science is progressing with ways to detect conditions like autism early. Still, it’s good to know the early signs of autism in child so that you can get help as soon as possible.
The following is a list of early signs of autism in children, which are often seen in six- to 18-month-old babies:
- being overly engrossed with objects
- not answering people
- not reacting when their names are called
- lacking eye contact
- getting upset if their usual routine is broken
- missing milestones like babbling or cooing by 12 months
- being unable to pay attention to something when prompted by others (such as by looking or pointing at the object of interest)
- doing things repeatedly, like rocking or arm flapping
- lacking any positive expressions at six months old or thereafter
- lack of, or total absence of sharing sounds or facial expressions by others at nine months old
- reduced, or having no actions like pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
- not having learnt any words at 16 months of age
- total absence of two-word phrases (excluding mimicking or restating what others have said) by 24 months
- not playing with toys normally, such as by concentrating on its parts rather than playing it as a whole.
Parents, if you think that your children aren’t developing normally as they should, or have missed developmental milestones, do get in touch with a paediatrician to have it checked.
You can also find further resources at the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore).