SEATTLE -- Researchers at the University of Washington are looking for more than 100 children to help them learn more about autism.A major study is currently under way at four American universities, including UW, that involves taking images of the developing brains of young children.
One of the tiny participants is two year old Tom Hansen. He is the youngest of three sons. His oldest brother, nine year old Sam, has Autism.
"He misses a lot of social cues," explains their mother, Jenny Hansen. Of Sam, she says, "He's either extremely overly touchy and huggy or he won't engage with you and make eye contact. There's just a lot of delay. I would say that my 5 and 1/2 year old just understands the world better than my nine year old does."
That's why she was more than eager to sign up Tom to participate in the UW study.
"I just jumped immediately. I was so excited about it," she says.
Researchers will take brain images of participants as they sleep three times between the ages of six months and two years. It will not harm the children, but it may unlock important secrets about Autism if they can reveal what goes wrong with brain development in infants who later develop Autism.
"There's something that happens probably between six months and a year based indirectly on head circumference measurement. And so what we're doing is the first study to prospectively look at what this process is," explains Dr. Stephen Dager of the UW's Autism Center.
The study is open to babies with at least one older sibling -- some of those brothers or sisters should be diagnosed with Autism, others should not.
"Our goal is to improve lives for children of Autism and their families. We feel very strongly that by identifying children earlier and more accurately that we can start early intervention," said Says researcher Dr. Annette Estes.
Jenny Hansen has seen how early intervention is the key to effective treatment of Autism. Now, she is thrilled that her toddler, who so far shows no signs of Autism, might end up teaching doctors something new.
"Anything that I could do to expand what we already know... I would never hesitate," she says. "I mean, never."
UW Researchers are looking for about 150 infants for the study. About about two-thirds should have at least one older sibling with autism. If you are interested in enrolling your child in the study, call 1-800-994-9701.