A new finding based on facial characteristics of children with autism may help researchers understand the origins of the condition.
“Children with other disorders such as Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome have very distinct facial features. Autism is much less striking,” says Kristina Aldridge, lead author and assistant professor of anatomy at the University of Missouri. “You can’t pick them out in a crowd of kids, but you can pick them out mathematically.”
The study analyzed 3-D images of the heads of boys between 8 and 12 years old: 64 with autism, and 41 without. The images revealed similarities among the group with autism: A broad upper face with wide eyes, a short middle region of the face -- including the nose and cheeks -- and a wide mouth and philtrum (the area between the nose and upper lip).
The findings may clue researchers in to what happens in the embryo in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the face develops, Aldridge says. It may help identify whether something environmentally or genetically is happening that may cause autism.
“This is clear support that the cause of autism is likely happening before birth,” Aldridge explains. “This allows us to start looking at those hypotheses more directly.