Brain Scans Can Help To Personalise Treatment For Autism

There is an increasing trend in mental health towards efforts to go beyond the simple approach of selecting treatments based upon an individual’s symptoms or diagnosis. This of course is already the case for other branches of medicine where it is routine to “look a little deeper” and to use additional testing and gather extra information about the individual patient to help better direct treatment.

An obvious example is headaches - Some people simply need to drink more water, whilst others might need a new prescription for their glasses, whilst others need surgery to remove a brain tumour.

This obvious approach, to look for a biological explanation for an individual’s symptoms is not yet routine in mental health. However increasing amounts of research is showing that individual characteristics, known as bio-markers or neuro-markers can help to gain a better understanding of the underlying cause of an individual’s symptoms, which in turn can better direct treatment. For example, research shows that some people with ADHD respond well to stimulant medication, whilst others do not, and this can be predicted by brain scans called QEEG.

Photo by  Istiaque Emon  on  Unsplash

Photo by Istiaque Emon on Unsplash

A recent study from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada has highlighted important differences in brain function in children with Autism, adding evidence to the understanding that there are probably different sub-types of Autism, based on differences in brain biology (much like ADHD).  This research, just published in The Journal Biological Psychiatry, has shown that children with Autism have abnormalities in the function of various brain networks.

Importantly, the researchers also found that (perhaps not surprising to some of us) that there were differences between individuals with Autism, indicating that not all people with Autism have the same problems. Dr. Stephanie Ameis, co-author of this study, suggested that these individual differences may explain why treatments for Autism do not always work for everyone (rather like giving everyone with headaches a glass of water), and why it is important to account for individual differences in order to develop innovative and personalised treatment approaches.

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