By Jim Dryden
Autism researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are joining other scientists to image the brains of infants and attempt to identify anatomical and behavioral changes that may be linked to the onset of autism. The $10 million, NIH-funded Infant Brain Imaging Study allows investigators to analyze early brain development in children at risk for autism spectrum disorders by virtue of having an autistic sibling. The study builds on two key findings. The first is that children with autism tend to have larger brains — between 5 percent and 10 percent larger by age two — than children who don’t have the disorder. Data from pediatricians measuring head circumference suggests the enlargement could begin at the end of a child’s first year of life. The second finding suggests the onset of social deficits associated with autism usually cannot be detected until the end of the first year.