New research could help predict autism before age 2

Researchers at the University of Minnesota were part of a national study that found measuring infants’ brain growth during their first year of life can predict the likelihood that they will be diagnosed with autism when they are two years old or older.

The research focused on babies with an older sibling with autism. For the study, researchers conducted MRI scans of the babies at six, 12, and 24 months of age. They found that babies who developed autism experience a “hyper-expansion of brain surface area from six to 12 months” compared to babies who also had an older sibling with autism, but did not show evidence of the condition at 24 months, according to a news release from the U of M.

The brain differences at six to 12 months in babies with older siblings with autism correctly predicted whether they would meet the criteria for autism when they are two years old 80 percent of the time.

Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder typically occurs after two years of age. Researchers say the findings from the study could help lead to early detection of autism in children with older siblings with autism well before a diagnosis is typically made.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by a team of researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. U of M researchers assisted on the project.