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January 2011



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Charlotte Moore

12 August, 2010.

ASD could soon be diagnosed with a brain scan. But trying to get an autistic child into the scanner is just one of the problems

Until now, diagnosing autism has been dependent on professional observation of the “patient”. Does he or she exhibit the “triad of impairments” – of communication, imagination and social interaction? Are there obsessive behaviour patterns? Are there sensory abnormalities? The signs can be subtle; diagnosis can be a frustratingly lengthy process.

A London University study could change all this. MRI scans of the brains of a group with ASD (autistic spectrum disorders) have been compared with those of a neurotypical group: significant differences in the brain were detected with enough consistency to raise hopes that soon autism will be detectable by a single 15-minute scan.

The implications are important and interesting. My mind leaps to the possibility of prenatal testing. It does seem only a matter of time before a potentially autistic brain can be detected during pregnancy. Would one wish to terminate such a pregnancy? As the mother of two autistic sons and one neurotypical one, I regard this as an ethical minefield, and I’m glad I never had that choice. It will be a long time, however, before scanning techniques are sophisticated enough to make the choice possible.

To return to the present: I was struck by the positive reactions of those who took part in the experiment. All were consenting adults with IQs within the “normal” range; they expressed interest in and relief at the findings. There is a well-meaning but, I think, mistaken belief that it is unkind to “label” high-functioning autists who can just about “get by” in our neurotypical world. I believe, on the contrary, that knowledge is power, and that most autists find it helpful to be given an explanation for the profound sense of difference that has dogged them all their lives.One man said he hadn’t fully believed in his autism when it was expressed verbally, as someone else’s opinion. Looking at the scan showing the difference between his brain and a neurotypical one highlighted in blue, he felt he had concrete evidence, and was glad.

Read in Full:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/12/no-magic-wand-with-autism

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