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For autistic children, brain size is bigger

Children with autism have slightly bigger brains than children without autism by age 2, research has shown. And a new study has found that, though the enlargement continues, the increased growth does not. 

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found in 2005 that 2-year-olds with autism had brains that were 5% to 10% larger than children without the neurological condition, but didn’t know if the autistic children’s brains continued to enlarge relative to their peers’. 

In a new study that assessed the same group of children at age 5, the psychiatrists re-scanned the brains of 38 children with autism and 21 without the condition. The autistic children still had slightly larger brains, but they had grown at the same rate as the comparison group.

“From earlier work by our group on head circumference or head size in children with autism, we think that brain overgrowth in many children with autism may actually be happening around the first birthday. Together these findings suggest that we should be searching for genes that may underlie the over-proliferation of neurons in this early post-natal period,” said Dr. Joseph Piven, senior author of the study, in a university news release.

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The results are published online in the May issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

The finding comes on the heels of a study finding that a new screening test may be effective at detecting autism in children as young as 1-year-old. The screening assesses a child’s ability to make eye contact and to use sounds, words and gestures to communicate.

Obviously, neither study points to a cure, but each adds to the knowledge necessary to address the condition.

healthkey@tribune.com

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