Can an ultrasound at birth reveal autism risk?

An ultrasound scan within the first few days of life may be able to detect brain abnormalities that indicate a higher risk of autism.

Researchers have discovered that autism could be linked to low-birth-weight. A new study has finally provided doctors with a signpost for early detection of autism. This discovery was made after a previous study published in the Journal Pediatrics found that premature babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy are five times more likely to have autism than those born on time and at a normal weight. Previous studies have also linked low birth weight to cognitive problems.

Brain abnormality detection

In the study, researchers discovered that an ultrasound scan within the first few days of life may already be able to detect brain abnormalities that indicate a higher risk of developing autism. Led by researchers at Michigan State University, the study found that low-birth-weight newborns were seven times more likely to be diagnosed with autism later in life if an ultrasound taken just after birth showed they had enlarged ventricles – cavities in the brain that store spinal fluid. Ventricular enlargement is more often found in premature babies and may indicate a loss of a type of brain tissue called white matter. “Further research is needed to better understand what it is about the loss of white matter that interferes with the neurological processes that determine autism,” said co-author Nigel Raneth, an MSU epidemiologist. “This is an important clue to the underlying brain issues in autism.”

Good to know: If you suspect your child may have autism, have him evaluated for Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Early intervention improves long-term outcomes and can help your child both at school and at home.

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. Autism is usually diagnosed in early childhood, between the ages of two and three years. Autism affects a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

Autism symptoms

Children with autism generally have problems with social interaction, language, and behaviour. However, because autism symptoms and severity vary greatly, two children with the same diagnosis may act quite differently and have very different skills. In most cases, though, children with severe autism have marked impairments or a complete inability to communicate or interact with other people.

Possible autism signs

In her book, Sister Lilian’s Babycare Companion, Sister Lilian identifies some general features of autism:

  • Small babies who don’t enjoy being hugged and cuddled. They are also often described by their parents as good children because they demand so little attention.
  • They smile rarely and hardly ever laugh.
  • Their speech does not develop normally, some children do not talk at all and others speak in a peculiar way.
  • They are particularly uncommunicative in their body language.
  • They engage in solitary play.
  • They appear not to hear you but in fact, they do hear you, and they understand you, but they are unable to react and follow your instructions.
  • Many autistic children exhibit repetitive behaviour.
  • Autistic children become agitated with the change of familiar rituals and environments and this catalyses violent temper eruptions.
  • Autistic children avoid eye contact.
  • There is a seeming indifference to pain.

When to see a doctor

All children develop at their own pace and may not all reach their milestones at the exact times parenting books suggest. But children with autism usually show some signs of delayed development within the first year. If you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms in your child or suspect that your little one may have autism, discuss it with your doctor.

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