Brain scans show language-center variations among autistic children

By Laura Mize • Published: July 1st, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Diminished communication skills are a hallmark of autism spectrum disorders.

People with one of these disorders have a wide range of abilities when it comes to talking and to understanding speech. Using brain imaging techniques, researchers may have found a way to better predict future language skills in young children diagnosed with autism. This understanding could eventually lead to earlier treatments to help children develop their communication skills.

The study involved scanning the brains of children ages 1 to 4 while they listened to a story. Some of the kids had an autism spectrum disorder. Some had other forms of language impairment, and others had no known delays.

During the story, the brain’s language center should have been activated. But on the brain images, the appearance of the language center varied widely among all the children. Some children’s brain images showed fairly normal, active-looking language centers, while other scans revealed abnormal, reduced activation.

The scientists evaluated the same children for several years to assess their language abilities.

Autistic children with relatively good language skills had language centers that looked similar to non-autistic children.

On the other hand, autistic children with weak language skills had scans that looked notably different from the other groups.

The researchers hope to one day be able to use imaging tests to determine what sort of support and intervention children might need as early as the toddler years. But many additional studies are needed to understand how to properly interpret the brain scans of kids with autism and how certain therapies might improve their language skills.

Still, families with autistic children may be encouraged by this development in understanding such a mysterious disease.