Starting Early

By: Sabiha Toni 

The brain changes at a rapid pace in young children, as they experience a newfound world—a domain outside the amnion—and discover the capabilities and potentials of their bodies. The sensations they are bombarded by and the reactions they employ are all chronicled in the increasing connectivities of their brains. Since not every child experiences his/her surroundings in the same light, there are bound to be differences in the progression of mental developments. In the case of ASDs, there seems to be recognizable disparities in the brain connectivity of an autistic child relative to one without any symptoms of ASDs.

          There is a strong background of scientific evidence supporting the early detection of autism. Symptoms can appear in the first or second year of an infant’s life. Such early onset is the basis of many early intervention therapies constructed for children with ASDs. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry has shown a more mechanistic view of the progression of autism. In infants as early as 6 months of age, there are differences in brain development that may point to ASDs in later years of life.

           Children who have autistic siblings are more prone to developing autism than those who do not (Wolff et al., 2012). Thus, researchers assessed 92 children who have siblings with ASDs at three points: at 6 months, 12 months, and 24 months of age. Diffusion tensor imaging scans, a type of MRI, were taken of these high risk individuals at each checkpoint. The scans provided a visualization of changes in circuitry within the brain over time. The team found that the white matter organization in the brain, a tissue that transmits signals to, from, and within parts of the brain, differs in children who were later diagnosed with autism at 24 months. Out of 15 pathways, 12 were alternately organized in ASD patients (Wolff et al., 2012). Changes in alternate pathways can be seen in subjects as early as 6 months. According to researchers, the connections created in children later diagnosed with an ASD were more stinted, and the progression over the 1.5 years was more delayed (Rowan, 2012).

          Previous studies have correlated differences in brain volume with ASDs, as well as larger head circumference (Wolff et al., 2012). These studies demonstrate how ASDs encompass the entirety of the brain, and that there is no single surefire region affected, no localized mass to blame. This makes the causes of autism and the genes associated with the neural changes much more difficult to pinpoint. However, the study does provide a basis for potential therapies that can target an even younger audience. Autism is a disorder of progression, as demonstrated by the time dependent study of white matter tracts. If intervening therapies are provided while the progression is still in its infancy, there may be a possibility of treating future signs and symptoms of autism.



Rowan, K. 2012. Autism Signs Appear in Brains of 6-Month-Old Infants. Scientific American: Mind & Brain. Retrieved from

Wolff, J.J., Gu, H., Gerig, G., Elison, J.T., Styner, M., Gouttard, S., Botteron, K.N., Dager, S.R., Dawson, G., Estes, A.M., Evans, A.C., Hazlett, H.C., Kostopoulos, P., McKinstry, R.C., Paterson, S.J., Schultz, R.T., Zwaigenbaum, L., Piven, J. Differences in White Matter Fiber Tract Development Present From 6 to 24 Months in Infants with Autism. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 2012; 169 (3).



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