Autism Diagnosis - Latest Research Discovers New Test With High Accuracy

An autism test that claims to detect the condition in 94 percent of persons with high-functioning autism has been developed by a team of researchers from the McLean Hospital, affiliated with Harvard University, and the University of Utah. The study was published this week online in “Autism Research.”

The test would possibly make subjective examinations unnecessary as the new method of diagnosis would utilize MRI technology to calculate differences in brain circuit arrangement. There is also potential this would lead to a more clear comprehension of autism itself and more effective treatments for people afflicted with this condition.

“This is not yet ready for prime time use in the clinic yet, but the findings are the most promising thus far,” said lead author Nicholas Lange, ScD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Neurostatistics Laboratory at McLean.

“Indeed, we have new ways to discover more about the biological basis of autism and how to improve the lives of individuals with the disorder,” said senior author Janet Lainhart, MD, Principal Investigator of the research at the University of Utah.

The test was conducted on one group consisting of people already said to have “high-functioning autism” employing the conventional subjective method of parent questionnaires and professional individual assessment. The second group consisted of normal progressive developing persons acting as a control.

By scanning and tabulating six features of the brain’s circuitry, the new test was correct in identifying 94 percent of those individuals who had been formerly diagnosed with autism.

“It provides pictures and measurements of the microscopic fiber structures of the brain that enable language, social and emotional functioning, which can reveal deviations that are not found in those without autism,” Lange said.

Lainhart added, “We can gain a better understanding of how this disorder arises and changes over the lifetime of an individual, and derive more effective treatments.”

The team of researchers plan to continue their study on people diagnosed with high-severity autism, younger children, and those with other brain disorders related to language development, ADHD, and OCD. Further findings are expected within the next two years.

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