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Simple Test May Take Guesswork Out Of Autism Diagnosis

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In what could open the door to earlier autism diagnosis, researchers said Tuesday that they can reliably pinpoint who does and does not have the disorder using a readily-available test.

The finding comes from the largest and most intensive study to date looking at detecting autism using an electroencephalogram, or EEG.

For the study, researchers at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston conducted EEG tests — which measure brain activity — on nearly 1,000 children ages 2 to 12, including 430 with autism and 554 who were typically developing.

When researchers examined the way various parts of the children’s brains connected, they found clear differences between the two groups, with those diagnosed with autism generally displaying less connectivity overall.

Ultimately scientists were able to pinpoint 33 factors that separated the children with autism from those without, according to the study published in the journal BMC Medicine.

Currently, autism is spotted through clinical evaluation and diagnosis is generally believed to be accurate as early as age 2. Researchers are hopeful that the study findings may lead to autism diagnosis and intervention at younger ages before behavioral symptoms are fully apparent.

While this is not the first study to look at the benefits of EEG in identifying autism, researchers said their closely defined group of participants makes their findings significant.

All of the kids with autism who were studied had classic autism, not high-functioning or Asperger’s syndrome, and were free of any known genetic disorder like fragile X syndrome. Additionally, researchers excluded children with other conditions like seizures and those taking medication in order to ensure the accuracy of the patterns they discovered.

“We studied the typical autistic child seeing a behavioral specialist — children who typically don’t cooperate well with EEGs and are very hard to study,” said Frank Duffy of Harvard and Children’s Hospital Boston who was one of the study authors. “These factors allowed us to make a discriminatory rule that was highly significant and highly replicable.”

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Comments (8 Responses)

  1. al pfadt says:

    I would like to see more detailed information about the hit and false alarm rates. Mislabeling a child as autistic can not only be traumatic for the family but costly in terms of over treatment.

  2. fairlady68 says:

    What about adults? Does this test work on us as well? BTW the CAPTCHA challenges that we have to type in to leave comments here are getting too difficult. After all, you cannot t forget that a lot of us who read and comment here have various types of disabilities! Is security really such an issue on a site like this???

  3. Jon K. Evans says:

    Would this test work on adults?

  4. Aia Dim says:

    It sounds very interesting, however I would like to see more information based on scientific evidences. From which journal is the information cited in this article?

  5. autismUXB says:

    Good luck getting the autistic kid to tolerate the EEG !

  6. Christopher Schmidt says:

    How do the EEG results reflect “less connectivity overall”? I would be interested in know how the EEG looks different from one group to the next. Is it a matter of more “noise” in the brain and less of a clear “signal” transmission? Less connectivity has a negative connotation and leads a reader to think that there is less gray matter, when what I have read elsewhere leads me to understand that there is typically more than average gray matter in the brain of a person with autism. Perhaps this over-abundance of neurons is making it difficult for the signal to be “heard” through the additional “noise” of the extra neurons.

  7. Johannes says:

    What is the number of kids with classic autism per 1000? Because the would show us if autism has really increased or if the diagnosis has just become broader.

  8. Shelley says:

    If this study only included kids with Classic Autism, wouldn’t it still be hard to diagnose kids with Asperger’s and PDDNOS? I imagine that’s where most of the difficulty lies in assessment, as symptoms can be missed when a child is high functioning or has atypical symptoms. I wonder what an Asperger’s or PDDNOS brain looks like, and if it is as obviously different to neurotypical brains as a Classic Autistic brain.

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