Early diagnosis is the critical first step to effective treatment.

New understanding of brain development and neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to reorganize itself—means that early diagnosis is more important than ever. If children can access treatment as soon as symptoms start to appear, there is a greater impact on their wellbeing and long-term prognosis.

Research being funded by Kids Brain Health Network is making accurate early diagnosis possible, even in infancy.

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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

No one cause of ASD has been identified, yet a more precise understanding of autism may lie deep within our genes. Our researchers are studying epigenetic changes in diagnosed children and their siblings. Looking at active vs inactive genes is helping pinpoint associations between hallmark traits and their genetic origins, providing the foundation for more accurate diagnosis, and targeted treatment options.

Siblings and parents have also played a key role in the development and testing of a new screening tool. The Autism Parent Screen for Infants pushes the capacity to identify potential ASD in babies to as early as six months of age. With Network support, our researchers are working to translate the tool into clinical practice.

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Cerebral Palsy (CP)

A unique collaboration between our cerebral palsy and autism researchers produced a landmark finding establishing the strong role of genetic anomalies in CP for the first time. Their breakthrough drew on information from the National CP Registry, a Network-supported trans-Canadian source of anonymous data and blood samples contributed by families raising children with CP in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

We are also evaluating brain imaging as a means of early prediction in newborn babies—especially premature infants—at high risk for CP.

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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

Only a fraction of affected Canadian children currently receive a diagnosis of FASD, due to limited capacity and the multiple specialties involved in diagnosing the condition. Our researchers are exploring new methods of early identification, including tracking eye movements and MRI brain scans. In collaboration with partners, we are championing development and testing of a standard data gathering form to be used in FASD diagnostic centres across the country, and evaluating the use of developmental planning for children in care showing early signs of developmental delay.