Babies the focus of autism research at the U

- The puzzle of autism is being solved at a younger and younger age, and research to help that is being conducted at the University of Minnesota.

“At 6 months, 12 months, we hope to identify the features that predict whether a child will go on to develop autism,” said U researcher Jed Elison.

Elison is part of a team of researchers that will study brain scans of babies as young as 3 months old. The studies will compare typical development to children that go on to have an autism diagnosis so doctors know what to look for in a young mind.

“We have evidence that the brain starts to change long before the behavior starts to manifest,” he said.

The goal is to get help for children as early as possible.  Right now, the average age of an autism diagnosis in Minnesota is nearly 5 years old.

The research is unprecedented -- and perhaps long term. Right now, the group is collecting brain scans for typically developing infants. Later this year, they hope to start looking at brain scans for younger siblings of autistic children because they have an increased likelihood of autism. Families who volunteer to be part of the study really get state of the art care and they get to be evaluated by a lot of experts in the field.

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