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Brain's Electrical Activity May Help Spot Infants at High Risk for Autism
Date:2/22/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Feb. 22 (HealthDay News) -- By analyzing patterns in the brain's electrical activity, researchers say they've been able to assess autism risk in children as young as 6 months of age.

Researchers hooked up 79 babies aged 6 to 24 months to an EEG, or electroencephalogram, which records electrical activity in the brain. Forty-six of the infants had an older sibling with an autism spectrum disorder, while the other 33 had no family history of autism.

Children who have a sibling with autism are much more likely to develop autism themselves, explained lead study author William Bosl, a neuroinformatics researcher at Children's Hospital Boston. Prior research has shown that about 20 percent of siblings of children with autism will also develop autism and another 40 to 50 percent will have some characteristics of the disorder, such as repetitive behaviors or problems with social interaction, language or communication, but not the full-blown disorder.

While the children watched people blowing bubbles, researchers measured the babies' brain waves and analyzed the results using computer algorithms. The algorithms can detect subtle patterns in the lines created by EEGs that the human eye might miss, Bosl explained.

When the babies were nine months old, researchers could predict who was in the high-risk autism group -- that is, they had a sibling with autism -- with nearly 80 percent accuracy.

"In this study, we have taken the first step in showing that there is definitive information in the electrical signals measured by EEG to distinguish normal controls from infants at high risk for developing autism," Bosl said.

When broken out by gender, researchers found other differences. For example, at nine months they were able to predict which boys were in the high-risk group with near 100 percent accuracy. But accuracy for girls at that age was only 60 percent, not
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