ABOUT AUTISM: Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. There is no known cure, although therapies and behavioral interventions can remedy specific symptoms. Autism is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, resulting in impaired social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. For instance, autistic children can't understand such social cues as tone of voice or facial expressions, and usually lack empathy. They may also engage in repetitive behaviors, such as rocking and twirling.
HOW MRI WORKS: Magnetic resonance imaging uses radio frequency waves and a strong magnetic field instead of X-rays to provide clear and detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues. These radio waves are directed at protons in hydrogen atoms -- one of the most abundant atoms in the human body, because of the body's high water content. The waves "excite" the protons, and when they "relax," they emit strong radio signals. A computer can turn those signals into a high-contrast image showing differences in the water content and distribution in various bodily tissues. The autism study scanned children's brains for patterns of abnormality in brain synapse formation.
The American Association of Physicists in Medicine contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.