According to new reports via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) one in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is a 30% increase from 1 in 88 two years ago. With these startling statistics in mind, parents and practitioners are eager to zero in on how early intervention and treatment can begin. It’s well known that autism involves early brain dysfunction, but now new evidence shows that autism may start earlier than previously thought. A new small study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that there may be an excess of neurons in the prefrontal cortex among children with autism that signals a disturbance in prenatal development. In plain old English, this means autism may start in the womb. Keep in mind that this study was extremely small. Scientists analyzed post-mortem brain tissue of just 22 children, ages two years to 15 years, with and without autism. Of the children studied, 90% of the children with autism had abnormalities of the brain, while only 10% of children without autism had abnormalities. According to the researchers, the abnormal aspects seen included changes in the part of the brain region involved in social and emotional communication, and language, and the changes were present long before birth. Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, tells BBC News,  “If this new report of disorganized architecture in the brains of some children with autism is replicated, we can presume this reflects a process occurring long before birth. This reinforces the importance of early identification and intervention.”

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+ Patches of Disorganization in the Neocortex of Children with Autism

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