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Brain Development in Autism : Infant Sibling Study
Washington University, School of Medicine

What is the goal of the study?
The goal of our study of brain development in infants at risk for autism is to increase our understanding of how the brain develops and to look for abnormal patterns of brain growth. There are surprisingly few large-scale studies of brain development in autism over time. There are even fewer that look at brain development in infants and very young children. We have been studying brain development in autism for the past 5 years and have been awarded funding to continue for 5 more. With your support we will be able to investigate more thoroughly the initial stages of significant brain overgrowth. In the first part of the study, we have learned that abnormal brain and behavior can now be observed at 6 months of age. Now we will be looking at infants as young as 3 months in order to more fully understand the course of early development. We will use newly developed assessment tools to help us identify infants at high risk for autism. Through the use of MRI technology we will capture images of the brain and perform sophisticated brain measurements. The data gathered in this study will provide important information regarding early brain development in autism, which may in turn provide clues that will eventually result in early interventions and improve outcomes for children with autism.

Under the direction of Dr. Kelly Botteron, the researchers at WU are studying brain development in autism by studying brain development in infant siblings of autistic individuals (i.e., who have older siblings diagnosed with autism). Additional collaborators at WU include Dr. John N. Constantino and Dr. Robert McKinstry. This study builds upon earlier findings of our collaborator Dr. Joe Piven's (UNC) work which indicates that brain enlargement in autism appears to start late in the first year of life. This innovative research will be using some of the most advanced brain imaging technology available to examine how brain structure changes during this important period from 3 to 24 months of age.

We are also looking for healthy, typically developing infants who have a typically developing older sibling as a control sample for this project. The control sample allows us to compare / contrast brain development in baby siblings at risk for autism (based on their having an older sibling diagnosed) with those not at risk (typically developing); making these healthy, typically developing families a valuable asset to this project.

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