Small head circumference at birth, followed by a sudden and excessive increase in head circumference during the first year of life, has been linked to development of autism by researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine and Childrens Hospital and Health Center, San Diego. Autism spectrum disorder occurs in one out of every 160 children and is among the more common and serious of neurological disorders of early childhood.
Researchers found rapid, excessive brain growth in infants later identified with autism spectrum disorder.
Courchesne discusses the JAMA study with co-authors Ruth Carper, Ph.D., left, and Natacha Akshoomoff, Ph.D., standing
Published in the July 16, 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the study identifies the first neurobiological, early-warning signs of autism during a childs first year of life, and offers the potential for earlier diagnosis, intervention and improved clinical outcomes for autistic children. In addition, this dramatic brain overgrowth is expected to become a major focus of future autism genetics research.
The early-warning sign – abnormally accelerated rate of head, and therefore brain, growth – occurs well before the first clinical signs of autism. It also appears to predict the severity of clinical outcome as well as the degree of brain abnormality at a later age. Currently, the disorder is not typically detected until ages two to four, when a child develops behavioral signs and symptoms, such as delayed speech, unusual social and emotional reactions, and poor attention to and exploration of the environment.
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