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Study Suggests Special MRI Might Help Diagnose Autism
Date:5/31/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 31 (HealthDay News) -- At the moment, a diagnosis of autism is based on subjective evaluations, but a new way of using MRI might be an objective way of spotting the disorder, Columbia University researchers report.

Autism is a spectrum disorder that includes repetitive behaviors and impairments in language, communication and social skills. It is estimated that the condition affects one in 110 children in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There is a serious unmet need in the autism world, where diagnosis is currently done by subjective reports, and after the child has missed many developmental milestones," said lead researcher Joy Hirsch, a professor of functional neuroradiology, neuroscience and psychology, and director of the Functional MRI Laboratory at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

"It is now possible to develop an objective imaging diagnostic," she said. Indeed, the researchers found a difference between autistic brains and typical brains in the level of responsiveness in language areas, Hirsch noted.

"What we can measure are signals in the brain, in a specific language area, that are depressed in autistic children and normal in typical children," she said.

Although this study was done with school-aged children and teens, the same test can be done with children as young as 18 months, Hirsch noted. "We know this technique can be used on young children," she said.

The report was released in the May 31 online edition of Radiology, in advance of publication in the August print issue.

For the study, 12 children with autism and 15 children without the condition underwent functional MRI (fMRI) exams. Both groups of children ranged in age from 4 to 17 years.

While the children were undergoing the fMRI, the researchers played recordings of their parents
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