Brain Wave Reading Detects Autism Risk In Babies

Robyn Nazar RN BSN's picture

Autism may be able to be detected as early as 9 months of age by using simple brain wave test, according to a new study.

Researchers at Children's Hospital in Boston have been conducting a large study on ways to identify markers of autism within the first year of life. In their research the found that a simple electroencephalogram (EEG) which measures brain electrical activity along with learning algorithms could predict with 80 percent accuracy of whether or not an infant is at a high risk for autism.

Right now the only reliable way that health practitioners can detect and diagnose autism is by using rudimentary symptom checklist. However, the behavior cues used for this diagnostic tool are not fully developed until a child as reached 2 years of age. Even with that many still don’t receive a diagnosis until they are much older. This is problematic because experts agree that early diagnosis and intervention is key to managing autism.

For this study, the researchers examined nearly 80 babies between 6 and 24 months of age. Each baby watched an assistant blowing bubbles while researchers conducted an EEG. An EGG is a non-invasive and painless test which involves the placement of scalp electrodes to monitor brain activity. The results of the EGG test were then calculated using a special algorithm to determine how well the neurons in the brain communicated with one another.


"Many neuroscientists believe that autism reflects a 'disconnection syndrome,' by which distributed populations of neurons fail to communicate efficiently with one another," explains Charles Nelson, Ph.D., Research Director of the Developmental Medicine Center at Children's. "The current paper supports this hypothesis by suggesting that the brains of infants at high risk for developing autism exhibit different patterns of neural connectivity.”

The researchers found that the most significant differences in brain communication were found at 9 months of age. This leads researchers to believe that it is at this age that babies begin to develop the higher level social and communication skills that are are affected by autism.

The prevalence of autism has increased rapidly over the past decade and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has called this an “urgent public health concern”. It is estimated that 1 in every 110 children are born with autism and this number continues to rise. The cause of autism is poorly understood however, genetics and pre-birth factors are considered to be most likely to contribute to is development.

Although these study results are preliminary, it is a significant advancement in learning how to more effectively diagnose autism at an earlier age. EGG testing is non-invasive, inexpensive, and can be done in a clinicians office – making this this type of routine autism screening a real possibility for the future.