The researchers found no differences in the activity in the hearing area of the brain between the two groups. However, in the language comprehension area, there was significantly more activity among typical children than among children with autism, Hirsch's group noted.
To further test this screening approach, another group of 27 autistic children, aged 5 to 17, underwent fMRI and the researchers were able to identify 26 of them as autistic.
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in Lake Success, said that "although the investigators did indeed find significant differences on neuroimaging between controls and autistic children, the clinical utility from a diagnostic standpoint is unclear."
There are important limitations to the study, Adesman said.
For one, this study was done in school-aged children, many of whom were actually teenagers, so it is impossible to know if these differences in neuroimaging would also be found in younger patients, Adesman pointed out.
"It is during the toddler/preschool years that autism typically presents and needs to be diagnosed," he explained.
"The other major limitation of this study is that the investigators did not look at whether these brain differences are specific to children with autism, or if they would also be seen, for example, in children with language delays who are not autistic," Adesman said.
Hirsch noted the study is preliminary and, as such, has some limitations. For one, it is not known whether this technique can identify autism across the entire spectrum of the disorder.
"There are questions about how this varies across the severity of autism. Also, can we distinguish autism from other forms of developmental delay?" she asked. "These are thing
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