Scientists studying babies' brains to learn about Autism

ATLANTA — Local babies are helping scientists with a big task: unlocking the secrets of autism.

An ongoing study at the Marcus Autism Center is using high-tech images to try to pinpoint intricate changes in infants' brains.

Scientists hope the MRI brain scans can lead to treating children earlier for autism. %



“It's been pretty cool to see what a 1-month-old's brain looks like, and then track it at age 3 months and 6 months. (It)  is just really fascinating,” said mother Julianna Cagle, whose twins Carter and Davis are taking part in the study.

Sarah Shultz, with the Marcus Autism Center, told Channel 2’s Linda Stouffer they want to spot when autism begins at a point before the current time of diagnosis, which is around age 2 or 3.

“We know very little about how autism unfolds in those first few months,” she said.

Doctors say there's no risk to children in the study.

“(We are) trying to move that age of diagnosis even earlier, even within the first months of life, to treat autism, really, before the symptoms start to emerge so we can help development get back on course before the symptoms are fully developed,” Schultz said. %



One mom says she volunteered her son for the study after experiencing the stress of learning her older child’s communication struggles are tied to autism.

“Since we had so many issues and questions when he was diagnosed, we figured we'd help out," said Robin Dube.

Even if they are low-risk, as the twins are, the Marcus Autism Center needs more babies on board so they can reveal the earliest signs of how to help.

“The studies are a way to be involved in the bigger picture,” Cagle said.

Doctors will continue to compare the children’s brain images until they are about 3 years old.