Using the Brain to Diagnose Autism



Marcel Just, a psychology professor and the director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University, along with his research team have published new research that would allow us to accurately diagnose autism with 97% certainty.

As of today, most autism diagnoses are done with the help of interviews and behavioral observations which can sometimes give inaccurate results for a variety of reasons–the biggest of which is subjectivity. Dr. Just and his research team’s findings could change the way we diagnose people on the spectrum as well as give us a more objective understanding of autism. Using fMRI brain scans, researchers tested 17 young adults with high functioning autism and 17 typically developing young adults. They were then prompted to think about social interactions such as “hugging,” “humiliation,” “adore,” etc., to measure the activation levels of 135 tiny pieces in the brain. Scientists analyzed these levels to see if there were any patterns and similarities in the brain when each interaction was thought about.

The results showed that the brain patterns are actually almost identical for different people. The researchers were able to identify 33 out of the 34 people correctly for being either autistic or typically developing. “When they thought about hugging or adoring or persuading or hating, they thought about it like somebody watching a play or reading a dictionary definition. They didn’t think or it as it applied to them,” Dr. Just explains.

The study concluded that people with autism are missing a “self factor” or their ideas about themselves and their role in social interaction is altered and a lot of the time very removed from the situation. This type of diagnosis removes a lot of the bias that comes along with a person being observed for any behavior abnormalities.

To read the original study, click HERE