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Georgia Tech researchers hope for earlier autism detection

Researchers at Georgia Tech hope that a new approach to autism detection may lead to earlier intervention in children.

Currently, the average age of diagnosis of American children with autism is between 4 and 5 years of age. However, by using special gaze-tracking glasses, researchers are able to more accurately measure eye contact in younger children -- or the lack of eye contact, which can be one of the symptoms of autism onset. With earlier detection, researchers believe treatment methods may be more effective.

Autism is a developmental disorder where different areas of the brain fail to work together. It is categorized as a pervasive developmental disorder, a group of illnesses that involve delays in the development of many basic skills, such as communication and socialization. It's also a listed disability on the Listing of Impairments maintained by the Social Security Administration.

Symptoms typically appear before a child is 3 years old and may include delays in learning to talk, not talking at all, and/or repeated and overused behaviors, such as body rocking. For example, parents may notice that their child has not started talking yet and is not acting like other children the same age. In other cases, a child that started talking with others his or her own age may then lose those language skills.

Unfortunately, the cause of autism is still unknown. However, recent research has indicated autistic patients have abnormalities in spinal fluid and chemical signaling in the brain. For that reason, studies are underway to explore whether immune system dysfunctions might be linked to the onset of nervous systems disorders, possibly including autism.

For families with autistic children struggling to cover treatment costs, assistance may be available through various sources, including insurance plans and federal benefits programs, such as Supplemental Security Income. An attorney can explain the application requirements.

Source: wsbtv.com, "Tech uses high-tech glasses for autism research," Oct. 15, 2012

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