An Eye Scan Might Be Able To Detect Autism, Study Finds

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
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The rate of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has increased significantly in recent years, but despite an increased awareness, most children still go undiagnosed. But that may change soon thanks to a noninvasive eye scan, which is effective in detecting a potential biomarker for neurodevelopmental disorders. 

A study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found an eye scan, called an electroretinogram (ERG), can help detect autism in children earlier than previously possible. 

What did the scans reveal?

The researchers from Yale University, University College London, and Great Ormond Street Hospital, tested handheld scans on 90 adolescents with ASD and 87 without. The average age of participants was 13 years old. 

The device exposes a pattern of electrical signals in the retina that are unique to children on the autism spectrum. The retina is another part of the brain, which is why neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders can often be detected through eye scans. "The ERG is a simple way of objectively assessing how the retina is performing," said Paul Constable, Ph.D., in a video.

Finding a biomarker for autism, or other neurodevelopmental disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can lead to early diagnosis, which according to Constable will allow children to receive proper interventions—like naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions—and will also allow their parents to make more informed decisions regarding their child's care. 

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Who are the scans most effective on?

While the study was conducted primarily on adolescents and teens with ASD, Constable said, "we anticipate it will be equally effective on younger children." They also plan on using the scan to better detect ADHD. 

"The next stage is to look at young children, even infants, as the earlier we can get to intervention stages the better," Constable said. 

When one child is born with ASD, the chances of a second or third child being diagnosed increases. "Detection inevitably changes family dynamics and goals, and creates consideration about the time required to help the child," said Constable, whose own child was diagnosed years ago. 

These diagnoses help parents get the support they need early on and provide children with the greatest opportunities to succeed. 

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