In a recent study published in the scientific journal Autism Research, researchers from the University of Missouri reported that distinct facial features could be used to distinguish children with autism from those who do not have it.
Kristina Aldridge, professor of anatomy at the MU School of Medicine and patron of the study, said that the brain & the face develop together, and the changes in brain development due to autism can affect facial features.
She also said that this knowledge could help doctors diagnose autism much earlier by just looking at a person’s face.
For the study, Aldridge and her team sampled 64 boys between the ages of 6 and 17 who had been clinically diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder versus 32 boys of the same age range who were neurotypical.
Using a 3D imaging technique, they captured the facial features of both groups and compared them. The researchers then mapped 17 points on the face, from the eyebrows to the lips and chin, to track subtle differences between the two groups.
The results showed statistically significant differences in the facial features of children with autism compared to those without it, particularly in the area around their eyes and mouth. The researchers also found that those with more severe forms of autism had more significant distinctions in their facial features than those on the milder end of the spectrum.
Though this study was conducted on a small sample size, the results are still promising & indicate that more research needs to be done in this area. “Knowing that point in time that the face starts to express the differences associated with autism could lead to earlier diagnosis and intervention,” Aldridge said. “This information also could help us understand how the brain is wired differently in autism.”
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that its symptoms & severity vary from person to person. Symptoms can range from mild social difficulties to severe communication and cognitive impairments. In some cases, individuals with autism may also experience sensory sensitivities, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
According to the CDC, autism affects an estimated 1 in 44 children in the United States. This is approximately 1.5% of the population, making it one of the most common developmental disabilities in the country.
The prevalence of autism is not limited to the United States. Studies worldwide have found similar rates of autism, ranging from 1 in 38 children in South Korea to 1 in 93 in Oman. Estimates for Europe range from 1 in 138 children in Greece to 1 in 139 children in Iceland.
The highest rate of autism is found in Qatar, where 1 in 66 people has been diagnosed with the condition.
Despite its global nature, much is still to be learned about the condition and how best to diagnose and treat it. Professor Krista’s study adds to the growing understanding of autism and could lead to earlier detection and better outcomes for individuals with the disorder.