[Source: Autism Speaks]
Guest post by pediatric neurologist Martha Herbert, of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Herbert is the author of The Autism Revolution: Whole Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be.
How and when does autism start? Unfortunately we have no way of looking directly at the disorder’s early origins. Presumably autism’s origins begin significantly before the time of diagnosis. But we have no way of reliably predicting autism before its characteristic behaviors emerge in the second or third year of life.
This is a particular problem when we look at the cellular structure of the brain. We can only put brain tissue under a microscope after death, when an individual or family has arranged to make a postmortem donation for research – a profoundly generous and important act. (Learn about registering your family with Autism BrainNet here.)
If the donation involves a child too young to have been diagnosed, we can’t know whether the brain was affected by autism. If the person died after diagnosis, it’s difficult to know whether or how brain differences relate to autism. What’s more, we don’t know with certainty when during brain development the differences developed.