Scientists are one step closer to finding the cause for autism. In a new study, Joseph Piven of University of North Carolina and colleagues found that children with autism have enlarged area of the brain called the amygdala:
"We believe that children with autism have normal-sized brains at birth but at some point, in the latter part of the first year of life, it [the amygdala] begins to grow in kids with autism. And this study gives us insight inside the underlying brain mechanism so we can design more rational interventions," said lead study author Dr. Joseph Piven.
A normal-sized amygdala helps a person process faces and emotions, behavior commonly known as joint attention.
"When you see a face, you scan it, identify if it's friend or foe and make a decision about whether to move forward or avoid it," said Dr. Barry Kosofsky, chief of neurology at Cornell Medical Center, who was not affiliated with the study.
UNC researchers conducted diagnostic assessments, in addition to the MRI scans, to monitor the children's behavior. They found toddlers with a large amygdala also had joint attention problems.