Autism is a controversial topic. Before Temple Grandin, not much was understood about it.

In 1998, UK doctor Andrew Wakefield published a study suggesting that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine could cause autism. Soon after, a conflict of interests was presented: Wakefield was developing an MMR vaccine of his own, and a lawyer was paying him to sue companies making the MMR vaccine. His study was retracted and his medical license was permanently suspended.

But the worry of having a child with autism is still something parents think about often.

How early can autism be detected?

Most children with autism aren't diagnosed until at least age 5, but symptoms can be recognized as early as 12-18 months.

The earlier autism is diagnosed, the earlier parents can adjust to raising a child who is affected by it.

"I once saw a 14-month-old boy who wasn't babbling, making eye contact or engaging in social games," Lauren Elder, PhD, said. "He played only in a highly repetitive fashion. By the time he was 18 months old, his autism diagnosis was very clear, and he responded well to early intervention."

It's all about to change

While symptoms aren't always recognizable until the child grows older, a new study shows that children can now be diagnosed with autism as early as six months old.

According to Science Daily, "autism researchers used MRIs of six-month-olds to show how brain regions are connected and synchronized, and then predict which babies at high risk of developing autism would be diagnosed with the condition at age two."

Children who have an older sibling with autism are considered to have a high risk of developing autism.

The study involved analyzing a young child's brain scans using a type of artificial intelligence.

"It examined 59 infants who were at high risk of developing autism. The artificial intelligence predicted with 100 percent accuracy that 48 infants would not develop autism. In addition, of the 11 infants who did develop the disorder by the time they were 2 years old, the system correctly predicted nine of the cases."

Aside from this new study, there are currently no medical tests for diagnosing autism. "Instead, specially trained physicians and psychologists administer autism-specific behavioral evaluations," Autism Speaks explains.

Parents are often the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child, such as not making eye contact, failing to respond to his or her name or playing with toys in unusual and repetitive ways.

From birth to 3 years old, every child should be tested for developmental milestones during routine well visits.

Parents are asked to trust their instincts and actively seek a doctor who will address their concerns and refer parents to the appropriate specialist.

So what does this mean?

Researchers said recognizing and identifying autism early using this new discovery could help parents and doctors to intervene early.

"The idea is that we can be more effective if we can get to these kids before they develop autism, perhaps ameliorating or preventing it," said Dr. Joseph Piven, a professor of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine and director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities.

The researchers said they hope their contributions will lead to more effective interventions for children on the brink of developing autism.

Autism can be a challenge for the child diagnosed with it, as well as for the parents raising their child. It impairs communication and social skills, which affects most relationships the child will have throughout his or her life. Hopefully this new study will help to alleviate those struggles.

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