MRI: A Useful Tool for Autism?

MRI: A Useful Tool for Autism?

You may be familiar with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology if you have ever suffered a broken bone, head trauma, a back injury, or abdominal pain (just to name a few uses).  However, you may be surprised to learn that new studies show that MRI may be useful in discovering some of the defining differences that exist in the brain function of those diagnosed with autism.  Although there has been some evidence that children with autism may have a slightly larger brain volume or head circumference, the structure of the brain is generally the same as anyone else.  However, tracking the function of the brain is the key to understanding how autism affects those who have the disorder, and possibly even finding ways to detect and diagnose it earlier in children.  But what role does MRI play?

Researchers at the University of Utah began by assembling a group of 53 high-functioning male autism patients along with a control group of 39 males who were not affected by autism.  They were then followed from childhood to adulthood (namely through their pre-teen and teenage years), undergoing a series of scans and tests to determine brain connectivity.  For example, it was found that those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders had less brain activity in connection with tasks such as facial recognition or motor skills, as opposed to those without the disorder.  While this issue and others like it had been uncovered in previous studies, this new research focused on brain activity as a whole, rather than just studying certain pathways in the brain and how they respond to various stimuli.  And it’s all thanks to MRI.

What makes this information useful is that it can help to identify particular disorders within the autism spectrum, and do so earlier than other methods of detection.  As any parent with an autistic child knows, early detection is the key to properly treating the disorder so that there is a better chance of high-function and normal (or close to normal) development, both mentally and socially.  Knowing the type of autism could not only determine the course to treatment to pursue, but could drastically effect the long-term outcome for children in the early stages of autism.  In short, it could mean the difference between a life of impairment and constant care or one of relative freedom and functionality.  Of course, that is the best case scenario, but you get the idea.

Opponents of this treatment argue that it may be too little too late, since most children are only diagnosed with autism once they have begun to exhibit physical symptoms.  It is also a costly procedure (and one that insurance may not cover without warrant).  And while it is certainly unlikely that parents with “healthy” kids will want to take them in every few months for MRI scans “just in case”, it could still have positive ramifications for children who are diagnosed with autism.  Because it is predicted that the scans will eventually be used to pinpoint symptoms associated with different types of autism, MRI could become a better, faster way to get children on the path to proper treatment of their disorder, which most parents would consider a huge mark in the “win” column.

Kyle Simpson writes for PhD Degree where you can find information about various online colleges and find the school and program that is right for you.

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