One in every 50 school children in the United States will be diagnosed with autism. It can take doctors years to identify the disorder, which delays much-needed treatment. But new research may help doctors predict a child's risk of developing autism -- at birth!

Early detection of autism is essential, said Dr. Harvey J. Kliman, a research scientist.

The brain is completely unformed at birth. We can change behaviors very early, he said.

A new study suggests that the placenta, which provides nutrients to the baby from the mother, may help doctors diagnose autism shortly after birth.

Researchers analyzed placentas from 217 births and found that in families at high risk for autism, there were more abnormal folds and creases in the placentas.

It will be at least a year before researchers know which children whose placentas were studied will have autism.

Currently, only 10 percent to 15 percent of placentas are ever analyzed, usually because of pregnancy complications or the death of a newborn.

The study is a joint effort by researchers at Yale University's School of Medicine and the University of California at Davis. Dr. Kliman says the test will be available in the next few months.

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