Autism and Brain Development

By Liana Loewus — May 06, 2009 1 min read
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Researchers at the University of North Carolina may have located an area of the brain that is overdeveloped in children with autism, reports CNN.

Using brain imaging, the researchers scanned 50 toddlers with autism and 33 without, and found that the amygdala, which controls the ability to read facial expressions and emotions, was 13 percent larger in children with the developmental condition.

“We believe that children with autism have normal-sized brains at birth but at some point, in the latter part of the first year of life, it [the amygdala] begins to grow in kids with autism,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Joseph Piven.

Chief of neurology at Cornell Medical Center, Dr. Barry Kosofsky, noted that while other studies have observed enlarged brains in children with autism, “this study finds that by age 2, the amygdala is already bigger and stops growing. . . It now poses the question: Are children born with autism or does it develop in the first two years of life?”

Experts are hopeful the finding will allow for early detection and intervention.

“By tracking the behaviors and brain volume growth from birth in high-risk babies, we can pinpoint when the brain first begins to grow larger than normal and provide therapy or medications to limit the growth or symptoms a lot earlier than we are doing now,” said Piven.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.