ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Every 20 minutes a child is diagnosed with autism. It's the fastest growing developmental disability in children. There is no cure and diagnosis can be difficult. Now researchers are looking at ways to find autism in infants because the sooner doctors diagnose it, the sooner children can be helped.
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Tanner Craft seems like any other 11 year old, but Tanner isn't like most boys his age. Tanner has autism -- a developmental disorder that affects one in every 150 kids.
"For me, it's hard for me to feel connected to him," Donald, Tanner's dad, told Ivanhoe.
Tanner's mom Tanya wants to know if her little girl Addie will also develop autism.
"Tanner was a challenge and is a challenge and won't trade it for the world, and he's wonderful," Tanya told Ivanhoe.
Siblings are at a 15 percent greater risk of being autistic. Diagnosis is based on behavioral tests so that rarely happens before age two. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis hope to help diagnose this disability much earlier … even in infants.
"We're just terrible at identifying them at six months -- even 12 months -- and we really need something that's more like a laboratory test," Kelly Botteron, M.D., a child psychiatrist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., explained.
Dr. Botteron is testing siblings of autistic children while they are naturally sleeping using MRI scans and a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).
"We know that there are going to changes very early in brain development that will be important in terms of the development of autism," Dr. Botteron said.
Nikki Birkhead has three children. Her oldest Luke has autism. Ryder is her youngest and is getting ready to take the scan. She's already noticed the difference between the two brothers.
"Ryder was walking at nine months, and Luke didn't walk until 15 months," Birkhead recalled to Ivanhoe. "Ryder is babbling and saying some words so we're hopeful. My gut feeling is he's just fine."
Researchers are looking at the structure of the brain, the development of white and gray matter and the development of the hippocampus. They hope this work will lead to earlier diagnosis.
"We do think we'll be able to predict who will go on to develop autism and how severe the symptoms will be," Dr. Botteron said.
Once they know who's at risk they can begin treatment months -- even years -- earlier.
"If you're able to intervene very early, the brain seems to have more ability to adapt to change," Dr. Botteron explained.
Although Tanner has a tough time with change, hopefully this test will prove his baby sister won't have to deal with his same diagnosis.
The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for autism screening suggest all children be screened during their 18 and 24 month well checks, regardless of whether or not they present autism-like symptoms. The MRI study begins at six months and is ongoing and researchers are accepting participants from around the country. It will last for five years.
The American Association of Physicists in Medicine contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.