When my son was diagnosed with autism it took about five hours of observation from a team of specialists as well as a battery of tests to assess everything from his speech to his hearing. The core of his testing was based upon a checklist of behaviors used to diagnose autism. The only problem with the current method of diagnosing autism is that there is always human error involved with simple observation. This is why so many children are either under-diagnosed or diagnosed inaccurately as being on the autism spectrum. The dangers of such misdiagnosis are obvious. Some children will not receive the early treatment they need and other children may receive a label which does not pertain to their challenges. But now there may be a way to resolve this dilemma.
A new study has shown that MRI-scans can detect autism in individuals with nearly 94% accuracy. Researchers from McLean Hospital in Belmont Massachusetts used a special MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging to examine parts of the brain responsible for social and emotional functioning as well as language processing. Subjects who had autism showed significant differences in these neural functions than subjects who were not on the autism spectrum.
When I say that my son with autism is “wired up differently,” I never realized that my hypothesis could be backed up by science. The researchers did brain scans of 30 people with autism and 30 people without and the team was able to identify the individuals with autism with 94% accuracy. They repeated the test using different subjects and had the same success rate in figuring out who had autism by their MRI scans. The results of this study can be found in the November 29 edition of Autism Research.
Preliminary research leading up to this current study was published in the October issue of Cerebral Cortex. Here the researchers were looking at specific ways in which the brain functioning of an autistic individual differs from people who do not have autism. They found that “interhemispheric connectivity” was not functioning properly for subjects with autism. What this basically means is that the parts of the brain located in different hemispheres have impaired communication with one another. The brain areas especially out of sync result in problems with facial recognition, attention, and social functioning.
Current news reports state that researchers report that MRI screenings for autism are not yet ready for clinical use quite yet. Researchers want to make sure that these same brain differences are not also present for ADHD or OCD. But if this MRI technology works as a diagnostic tool, it could yield some very intriguing information not only for the purposes of diagnosing autism but also to note changes in the brain over time. It is exciting research. Imagine getting a non-subjective and scientific diagnosis for your child in less than an hour. The only problem? How could I ever get my kid to be still for an MRI?