Further work is needed to refine the test, Hirsch added. "This is not the diagnostic that you can package and send to all community health centers in the United States. This is an announcement that this can be done," she said.
This test costs no more than a standard MRI, which runs around $1,500, Hirsch noted.
Another expert, Dr. Robert F. Lopez-Alberola, chief of pediatric neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that "it's nice to have an objective measure, but it doesn't really do much."
Ultimately, he said, "the diagnosis of autism is a clinical diagnosis. I see this as having more implications for research into the pathophysiology of autism."
However, if this test could be done in really young children, it might help identify autism so that treatment can begin early, Lopez-Alberola suggested. "We know the earlier we begin interventions, the greater the likelihood of better outcome," he said.
"Although this technique holds promise for identifying infants at risk for autism, it still needs to be determined whether the atypical patterns of brain activation are specific to autism," said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks.
"It is possible that children who have delayed language but not autism would also show the same pattern. Regardless, this research is promising as a method for identifying young children at risk for autism," Dawson said.
For more on autism, visit the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
SOURCES: Joy Hirsch, Ph.D., professor, functional neuroradiology, neuroscience and psychology, and director, Functional MRI Laboratory, Columbia University Medical Center, New York City; Andrew Adesman, M.D., chief, developmental and behavioral pediatrics, Steven and Alexandr
All rights reserved