BACKGROUND: Despite the widely-held understanding that the biological changes that lead to autism usually occur during prenatal life, there has been relatively little research into the functional development of the brain during early infancy in individuals later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). OBJECTIVE: This review explored the studies over the last three years which have investigated differences in various brain regions in individuals with ASD or who later go on to receive a diagnosis of ASD. METHODS: We used PRISMA guidelines and selected published articles reporting any neurological abnormalities in very early childhood in individuals with or later diagnosed with ASD. RESULTS: Various brain regions are discussed including; the amygdala; cerebellum; frontal cortex and lateralised abnormalities of the temporal cortex during language processing. The review discusses studies investigating head circumference, electrophysiological markers and inter-hemispheric synchronisation. All the recent findings from the beginning of 2009 across these difference aspects of defining neurological abnormalities are discussed in light of earlier findings. CONCLUSIONS: The studies across these different areas are revealing the existence of atypicalities in the first year of life, well before ASD is reliably diagnosed. Cross-disciplinary approaches are essential to elucidate the pathophysiological sequence of events that lead to ASD.
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- head circumference
- frontal cortex
- early childhood