Autism Can Begin Developing in the Second Trimester of Pregnancy 26668

I'm sure each of you reading this knows someone who has been diagnosed with autism. Though autism is hard to diagnose before 24 months, symptoms often surface between 3 and 18 months. Autism is thought to be the result of a combination of contributing factors, from genes, including a fathers' older age at conception, to environmental exposure such as pollution and infections during pregnancy. The actual development of autism, however, scientists say, starts while the child is still in the womb—as early as in the second trimester of pregnancy.

A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine concludes that the brains of autistic children showed differences from the brains of kids without the disorder in areas that normally develop in the second trimester of pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder. That is a 30 percent increase from the 1 in 88 stat that was released just two years ago. While people are debating whether the increase in autism is actual, or if anything that can't be diagnosed is now just being labeled autism, boys seem to be diagnosed with it the most. The CDC estimates 1 in 41 boys have autism—which is an astounding 4.5 times more prevalent than in girls (1 in 189).

A group of scientists from around the country working with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center obtained frozen cubes of brain tissue taken from children ages 2 to 15, who had died. The samples were taken from three areas of the brain that play a role in socialization, emotions and communication—areas that are usually troublesome for kids with autism.

According to the LA Times, "The researchers analyzed 11 samples from children with autism and 11 samples from typically developing children. They were looking to see whether the samples had developed into six distinct layers—each with its own set of gene markers—which should happen in prenatal development."

In 10 of the 11 samples from children with autism, the researchers found patches of tissue where some layers were missing. In the 11 samples that were used as controls, only one had an abnormal patch. While this study is not able to tell what causes the development of autism, it points to the fact that autism might be able to be diagnosed earlier than previously thought, and therefore behavioral therapies can begin even sooner, allowing autistic children to learn techniques to lessen the symptoms of their developmental disorder. That sounds like something to cheer about to me!

TELL US: Do you or someone you know have a child with autism? Do you think earlier diagnosis of autism equals better behavioral outcomes?

Image of sonogram courtesy of Shutterstock.