Autism may develop in the womb, new study says

By Amanda Stewart,

Researchers have found that the brain tissue of children with autism looks quite different than brain tissue of other children.

This study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Autism is generally diagnosed between the ages of 3 to 5, according to The Chicago Tribune. The disorder that affects one in 50 children in the U.S. may be able to be diagnosed earlier with the findings in this study.

The differences in the brain could definitely explain the developmental problems many autistic children face, but it can also suggest that autism begins before birth, according to LA Times.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center took frozen cubes of brain tissue that were taken from children ages two to 15 who had died. They took samples from the three brain regions that play a role in social cognition, inhibition and abstract reasoning.

Researchers studied 11 brain samples from children with autism and 11 samples from normally developing children. The study found that the changes in brain tissue would probably happen during the second and third trimesters.

These two trimesters of pregnancy are when most of the brain development happens.

"The broader implication is now we have more evidence that brain changes early in life are very important for understanding autism, and it helps make the case that we have to start earlier to understand causative factors," said Dan Smith, senior director for discovery and research at Autism Speaks, an advocacy group based in New York. While there is still no cure for autism, it may be easier to diagnose earlier.

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