A major medical breakthrough is giving hope to families of children with autism. Local researchers now say it may be possible to predict whether babies will go on to develop autism.
Kerry Keller is the mother of four boys. Her oldest son, Liam, has autism.
"A neurologist told us, if we had a second child and it was a male, our instance of having another child with autism is very high, says Keller."
Keller's youngest son, Paddy, was just 6-months old when the family was asked to participate in a study at Washington University School of Medicine.
“It happened to be perfect timing because they were looking to do their first bran scan at 6 months, Keller says. "And so Paddy was young enough so that we could enter at that time.”
Over the course of 2 years, Paddy went through a series of brain scans at 6, 12, and 24 months, along with developmental testing.
"We were looking at very early brain development in infants who are at risk for autism," says Dr. Kelly Botteron, Professor of Psychiatry and Radiology at Washing University School of Medicine. "To determine what is different about very early brain development in kids who eventually development autism."
Dr. Botteron says the findings show significant changes in the structure of the brain from 6-12 months.
"We found that from 6-12 months there was a much greater expansion of the surface area of the brain in the kids that went on to develop autism, says Botteron."
The study also cites regional differences in the brain that we already know are affected in older kids with autism.
The next steps for this research is to replicate the findings in another sample.
"Where we're going in the future, is to have this clinically available to families," says Botteron.
For Kerry and her family, she says she's always looking for ways to help Liam navigate through life day by day.
"I think there's a lot of fear and hopelessness out there and just to be able to find support and interventions that make you feel like there is support and this is a beautiful child that can do wonderful things," she says.