A new test can determine whether someone has a form of autism spectrum disorder with up to 90% accuracy. The new brain scan developed by scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in King's College London maps cerebral structural changes in patients in 15 minutes.
This will be 20 times more cost effective and gives much quicker results, according to the researchers.
The test is especially good news for children, who could be screened for the disorder more effectively than in the past. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), caused by abnormalities in brain development, affects more than 500,000 people in the UK alone.
People with the condition share an inability to communicate, form social relationships, and may show repetitive use of words or movements. The new scan builds a 3D model that is analysed by computer software programmed to identify the telltale signs of autism in the structure of the brain.
Joe Powell, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism says that it is great to be able to see the physical reasons for his condition.
"For me it was amazing because I'm always beating myself up and having a lot of self doubt when I'm not the same as anybody my age. I get really upset, why am I different, it's my fault," he says. "So, for me seeing it physically, evidence on the screen was fantastic."
The new technique has been tested on 20 adults aged between 20 and 68. However sceptics say that more research is needed to prove its effectiveness.
Autism campaigner Martin Hewitt believes that the test has not yet been proven to work on children as all of the patients were adults and, in particular, men.
"My reservations are twofold: One this has only been tried out on 20 adults so we've got a small sample and I guess we have got to roll it out to a larger sample," says Hewitt. "Secondly it has got to be applied to children, and they've not yet done that test. Now of course it may well work with children and they seem to be hopeful."
Each test costs between $157 and $314, a huge reduction on the current tests.
Professor Declan Murphy is a neuro developmental expert at King's College London, who led the research.
He says that the scan will help those who have struggled to get an accurate diagnosis for their condition.
"This new method for diagnosing autism is going to help people, especially the people that fall through the cracks or haven't been diagnosed before. Because firstly it can directly measure your brain, it doesn't rely on the history given by somebody else, it's a direct measure in your brain of how autistic you are or not."
The technique is not expected to be available for general use for another two years.
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