New research suggests that autism affects the brain differently as individuals with the developmental disorder age, a finding that may allow for a more targeted treatment approach.

Using a new technique, researchers were able to directly compare the brain activity of kids and adults with autism. They found marked differences in brain activity depending on a person’s age.

“We found that brain activity changes associated with autism do not just happen in childhood and then stop,” said Daniel Dickstein of Brown University and Bradley Hospital who led the study published this month in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “Instead, our study suggests that they continue to develop… This is the first study to show that.”

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For the study, Dickstein and his colleagues looked at functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, brain scans that were conducted on children and adults with autism in previous studies. They found evidence of significantly more activity occurring in the minds of adults with autism as compared to children when the individuals were looking at faces and doing other social tasks, for example.

The finding could have big implications for how autism is treated, researchers said.

“If we can identify the shift in the parts of the brain that autism affects as we age, then we can better target treatments for patients with ASD,” said Rowland Barrett, chief psychologist at Bradley Hospital, who worked on the study.