Last updated on Feb 18th, 2021 at 09:31 am

A new study has finally provided doctors with a signpost for early detection of autism. This discovery was made after a previous study published in the Journal Pediatrics found that premature babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy are five times more likely to have autism than those born on time and at normal weight. Previous studies have also linked low birth weight to cognitive problems.
In the study, researchers discovered that an ultrasound scan within the first few days of life may already be able to detect brain abnormalities that indicate a higher risk of developing autism. Led by researchers at Michigan State University, the study found that low-birth-weight newborns were seven times more likely to be diagnosed with autism later in life, if an ultrasound taken just after birth showed they had enlarged ventricles – cavities in the brain that store spinal fluid.
Ventricular enlargement is more often found in premature babies and may indicate a loss of a type of brain tissue called white matter. “Further research is needed to better understand what it is about the loss of white matter that interferes with the neurological processes that determine autism,” said co-author Nigel Raneth, and MSU epidemiologist. “This is an important clue to the underlying brain issues in autism.”
If you suspect your child may have autism, have him evaluated for Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Early intervention improves long-term outcome and can help your child both at school and at home.

What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. Autism is usually diagnosed in early childhood, between the ages of two and three years.
Autism affects a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

Children with autism generally have problems with social interaction, language and behaviour. However, because autism symptoms and severity vary greatly, two children with the same diagnosis may act quite differently and have very different skills.
In most cases, though, children with severe autism have marked impairments or a complete inability to communicate or interact with other people.
In her book, Sister Lilian’s Babycare Companion, Sister Lilian identifies some general features of autism:

  • Small babies who don’t enjoy being hugged and cuddled. They are also often described by their parents as good children because they demand so little attention.
  • They smile rarely and hardly ever laugh.
  • Their speech does not develop normally, some children do not talk at all and others speak in a peculiar way.
  • They are particularly uncommunicative in their body language.
  • They engage in solitary play.
  • They appear not to hear you but in fact they do hear you, and they understand you, but they are unable to react and follow your instructions.
  • Many autistic children exhibit repetitive behaviour.
  • Autistic children become agitated with the change of familiar rituals and environments and this catalyses violent temper eruptions.
  • Autistic children avoid eye contact.
  • There is a seeming indifference to pain.

When to see a doctor
All children develop at their own pace and may not all reach their milestones at the exact times parenting books suggest. But children with autism usually show some signs of delayed development within the first year. If you notice any of the above mentioned symptoms in your child or suspect that your little one may have autism, discuss it with your doctor.

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The MMR vaccine does not cause autism and other disorders

In 1998, a group of researchers led by Dr Wakefield at the Royal Free Hospital in London suggested that the MMR vaccine caused inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which then led to developmental disorders such as autism. But, reviews of hundreds of studies by expert groups around the world, including the World Health Organization, failed to confirm this finding, and they concluded that there’s no link between measles, the measles vaccine and either Crohn’s Disease or autism.
“Indeed, several scientific and ethical flaws found in Wakefield’s research resulted in his paper being discredited and his licence to practice being revoked,” says Professor Haroon Saloojee from the Division of Community Paediatrics at the University of the Witwatersrand and principal paediatrician at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.
Experts believe that the link between autism and the MMR vaccine is coincidental because parents usually first report concerns about their child’s development between 18 and 19 months, and over 90% of children receive the MMR vaccine just before or around this time.