In Photo: Autistic children take part in the Horse Therapy Special Children program in Bangkok June 17, 2014 Reuters

Experts have found a way to help parents determine the best level of treatment they can provide for their child with Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASD. The study also discovered the best time when interventions should be initiated.

Previous studies show that infants with ASD who have good language skills have fairly similar neural activity compared to those who do not have the disorder. The neural activities in the area of the brain regulating language functions have no significant differences. With the result of the new study, this previous finding may now have a valuable explanation at present.

Senior author Professor Eric Courchesne from the University of California, San Diego explains that there is limited understanding as to how children with ASD are able to develop good language skills due to the lack of neural bases of abnormal language development. "This is because most brain imaging studies of the disorder have been conducted when ASD subjects are much older and well after early stages of development and after treatment," says Courchesne, director of the Autism Centre of Excellence in the Department of Neuroscience.

The study was conducted by measuring the brain activity of 60 toddlers with ASD and 43 children without ASD. The participants, aged between 12 and 48 months, were made to listen to stories while asleep, while the researchers utilised a functional brain imaging, or fMRI, to monitor where the speech stimuli is directed and how strong the intensity of the activity is.

The participants were monitored in early childhood, particularly up until the first year of life to determine who had better language skills. They compared the results of both groups, and Courchesne says that there are "two distinctly different and early appearing brain subtypes of ASD." Toddlers who have good language skills continue to have near-normal brain activity in the language-sensitive areas of the brain, while those who have poor language skills were found to have very minimal activity and response to the same brain region.

Co-author Dr Karen Pierce, co-director of the UC San Diego Autism Center of Excellence, predicts that toddlers with significant brain activity in the language-sensitive areas of the brain can benefit from treatment and achieve long-term positive outcomes. "On the other hand, if a toddler showed poor activation in language cortex, then this might be a red flag for parents and clinicians and could imply that the child might require considerably enhanced treatments specifically designed to stimulate weak language function in the brain," she closes.

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