New autism research could predict whether children as young as 3 months old are at risk


A groundbreaking study is being done at Boston Children's Hospital that researchers say could potentially predict whether a child as young as 3 months old is at-risk for developing autism.

>> Watch the news report here

Right now, most children can't receive a reliable diagnosis until they are at least 1 year old. 

Chase Minicucci and his mother, Hillary Steele Minicucci, regularly go to Boston Children’s to track his development. Chase seems to be a typically developing toddler, and he’s learning to point and use words to express his needs.

>> Could blood and urine test be used to diagnose autism?

However, Chase has been identified as at risk because his older brother, who is 7, has autism.

“We did the testing, and one day after his 4th birthday … the doctor said, ‘so your son has autism,’” said Hillary Steele Minicucci. 

Hillary and her husband also have a 6-year-old daughter who does not have autism, but autism is more prevalent in boys. 

Research shows one in five children whose siblings have autism will also be on the spectrum. Hillary spent the first year of Chase's life watching his behavior closely and worrying.

“I was literally making myself crazy over it,” she said. 

Hillary was able to find a spot for Chase in a study at Boston Children's Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, involving 99 siblings of children with autism.

Infants as young as 3 months old and toddlers up to 36 months old spend only a few minutes wearing a cap with more than 100 sensors. While wearing it, they watch a T.V. showing cartoons, which is also an eye tracker.

Boston Children's Cognitive Neuroscience Lab Director Dr. Charles Nelson said by studying their EEG signals, the electrical activity in the brain, they can predict which infants are likely to develop autism.

“What we've seen is at 3 months of age, we've seen patterns of brain activity that basically predict who, three years later, will develop autism,” said Nelson. 

>> Read more trending news 

One of the big unknowns is when does autism develop, and Nelson said the study is shining light on whether it happens before or after birth. 

“It's very unlikely that brain development was perfectly normal until birth and then something happened. The fact that we see it so early, just at 3 months, makes me think that it started before birth. But what derailed brain development, we don't know,” he said. 

Dr. Nelson stressed the medical community is not at the point yet where a 3-month-old could receive a diagnosis, but the child could be flagged. The next step is developing early intervention strategies for that age group.

As for Chase, his mother said that right now, he doesn't seem to be exhibiting some of the warning signs, which has given her some much-needed reassurance.

“I can start to enjoy my baby now,” she said. 

The study is ongoing and open to three groups of children: 

  • Babies with older siblings with ASD
  • Babies with no family history of autism who failed an autism screening
  • Typically developing babies

Because the EEG caps are relatively inexpensive, Nelson hopes someday soon every local pediatrician's office could have one and all infants could be identified within a critical window of time.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

Gina Malik, 38, of Roswell lost 70 pounds
Gina Malik, 38, of Roswell lost 70 pounds

Former weight: 300 pounds Current weight: 230 pounds Pounds lost: 70 pounds Height: 5 feet 3 inches Age: 38 years How long she’s kept it off: Malik started last summer and reached her current weight this month. “It is very slow, where for some people it comes off a lot faster. … As a mom, there is not much sleep, I am trying to get...
Things to do in and around Atlanta on Tuesday, Aug. 14
Things to do in and around Atlanta on Tuesday, Aug. 14

Live music, comedy, a cats exhibit. Here’s three ideas for your Tuesday. ‘DIVINE FELINES: CATS OF ANCIENT EGYPT’ AT MICHAEL C. CARLOS MUSEUM From domesticated pets to mythic symbols of divinities, felines played an important role in ancient Egypt for thousands of years. The Carlos Museum will present Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient...
Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soulful style
Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soulful style

With a career spanning six decades, Aretha Franklin -- the Queen of Soul -- has seen her share of fashion trends.  Her own choices have run the spectrum from furs, pearls and animal prints to glamorous beaded, sequined and embroidered gowns.  From her empire waist dresses and bouffant hair in the 1960s when her career first caught fire...
One Musicfest announces replacement for Cardi B
One Musicfest announces replacement for Cardi B

The recent announcement by Cardi B that she was dropping off the Bruno Mars tour to tend to her new baby also applies her scheduled performance at the One Musicfest. The event, which takes place Sept. 8-9 in Atlanta’s Central Park, will no longer feature the popular rapper. Her slot has been filled by 2 Chainz, who will join fellow Atlantans...
Why ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is such a big deal for Asian Americans
Why ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is such a big deal for Asian Americans

A rom-com movie rarely gets the level of scrutiny and attention that the upcoming film “Crazy Rich Asians” is pulling in. Why? It’s the first major American studio movie set in the present day featuring a largely Asian cast since 1993’s “Joy Luck Club.” And it features a reported budget of $30 million...
More Stories