Around 1% of the entire world population is somewhere on the autism spectrum, and prevalence in the United States is much higher – around 1 in 68 live births.
And, worryingly, the number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is only growing – since the year 2000, the prevalence of autism in US children has increased by a shocking 119.4%, making it the single most quickly-growing developmental disorder in the United States.
One of the most difficult aspects of treating autism is the inability for doctors to diagnose newborns and infants with this developmental disorder. It’s usually nearly impossible to detect autism in pre-verbal children because most of the behavioral and developmental effects of autism are only recognizable once children reach the age of 2-3.
However, a new study released in the medical journal Biological Psychiatry could provide doctors with a potentially revolutionary method by which autism can be detected early – even in infants.
Cerebrospinal Fluid And Autism – Investigating The Link
This latest study was conducted by Mark Shen, who carried out a 2013 study that investigated the link between excessive cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and autism. Though his initial findings were promising – infants with excessive CSF were found to have a higher likelihood of developing autism – the study was limited in scope to 55 babies, only 10 of which developed autism.
The 2017 study performed by Mark Shen and Dr. Joseph Piven of the UNC School of Medicine was much more comprehensive. While developing the study, the researchers focused specifically on choosing infants with a high likelihood of developing autism.
They did this by choosing infants with siblings who have been diagnosed with ASD – children who have siblings that are diagnosed with ASD are around 14x more likely to develop autism. 343 babies were chosen for the study – 221 of which were considered at “high risk” of developing autism.
Over 24 months, the cerebrospinal fluid levels of the children were measured regularly. After the 24-month study had concluded, 47 of the children in the study received an autism diagnosis.
Excessive Cerebrospinal Fluid Was Associated With Higher Autism Risk
While following-up and analyzing the data from the study, the research team made a shocking discovery – the 6-month-old infants who had gone on to develop autism had 18% more CSF than 6-month olds who were not diagnosed with the disorder.
These CSF levels held true throughout the study, remaining elevated at the 12 and 24-month measurement marks. Children who had increased CSF levels were also seen to exhibit poor motor skills, including limb and head controls.
Perhaps most interestingly, an increased level of CSF was diagnosed with a higher overall level of ASD diagnosis. Children who went on to develop “severe” cases of autism were found to have up to 24% more CSF at their 6-month scan.
All-in-all, the research team was able to predict the development of autism at an accuracy rate of 70% – making this research project a huge success.
While the researchers don’t believe that CSF is the only factor contributing to autism development, this correlation could be very helpful in informing future research efforts, and developing a more comprehensive ASD diagnosis schema that could be used not just in children – but in newborns and infants, as well.
This is critical because early autism intervention is correlated with lower overall levels of mental and developmental impact. When children are treated for autism early, there is a good chance that the overall impact of the disease can be mitigated – and in some cases, children can “grow out” of their ASD diagnosis.
More Investigation Is Required – But Initial Findings Are Promising
More research must be conducted to learn more about the relationship of CSF and autism. It’s important to note that CSF may not, in fact, be a cause of autism – but only a symptom of a deeper disorder or disease.
Further investigation of this method of diagnosing autism will certainly be required, but the advances in the field of ASD diagnosis are certainly welcome in America – especially as the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders continues to increase.
Regardless of what the results of a further investigation of the link between CSF and autism may reveal, this is certainly a great step forward. This study could result in more effective treatment for autism, earlier recognition of the disorder, and better overall outcomes for children who are diagnosed with an ASD.