Identifying Autism: The Latest Breakthrough

Autism Spectrum Disorder cases have risen significantly in recent years, and while early intervention is widely regarded as the best course of action for families, important questions still remain unanswered. The cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder remains a mystery, but methods to detect Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are becoming better. The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier intervention can begin, and that is the mantra under which much of the current research has operated.

The Breakthrough

The latest brain imaging techniques (think MRI, but a tad more advanced) have been successful in revealing parts of the brain’s activity particularly relevant to ASD. The social perception circuit is the part of the brain in question. To give a very basic explanation, this part of the brain typically shows lower levels of activity in a person with ASD, as opposed to a typical person without ASD.

Autism MRI scan

However, this data can only be seen in male patients. So, for the time being, this breakthrough only helps boys, but a similar technique to help girls with ASD is in the works currently. Fortunately, in male patients, the method is successful regardless of age.

Why Does This Matter?

See the picture earlier in this post? The goal of ASD treatment is to help the person on the right reach activity levels of the person on the left. The key to measuring effectiveness of treatment plans with this technique is the use of “biomarkers,” which serve as the units for doctors evaluating circuit activity in parts of the brain. As we’ve mentioned in the past, treatments can range from behavioral programs to drugs, or a combination of the two. The issue at hand is that no treatment is an overnight success; they all take time. Rather than take months, or even years, to judge a treatment plan’s effectiveness, families and doctors can measure the effectiveness of plans very quickly. In fact, the very diagnosis of ASD and an accompanying treatment plan can be improved by the plan, so families and doctors spend less time and money while finding the best plan for the patient in question.


Will This Change Autism Treatment Overnight?

Unfortunately, this breakthrough suffers from the same “catch” that most medical breakthroughs suffer from: the method is expensive and not readily available in all parts of the country, let alone the world. Many hospitals and clinics do not possess the correct type of machine to acquire these brain scans, for the simple reason that it is too costly. That does not detract from it’s effectiveness, however. Out of necessity, focus must be put on developing easy-t0-access and/or inexpensive tools that can perform the same functions. There are two levels of technological advancement at play here: A) the growing capabilities of machines, and B) the growing affordability of machines. So long as both grow quickly together, we are on the road to knowing more about our bodies and how to keep them healthiest.

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