Children with autism

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Posted: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 3:52 pm | Updated: 4:41 pm, Wed Jul 3, 2013.

The statistics are shocking. One out of 88 children born today will be diagnosed with autism by the time they are 8-years-old.

A married couple, who are two of the country's leading autism researchers, tells us what they're doing right now to help cut that number.

Luca was just 18 months old when his mom noticed something was just not right. "Repetitive motions and, you know, getting frustrated," says Tracy Sekhon, Luca's mom.

He was diagnosed with autism. The husband and wife team of Doctor Eric Courchesne and Doctor Karen Pierce are working hard to help kids like Luca. "What we discovered recently is that the child with autism has 67 percent more brain cells."

Those cells are in the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain important for social, emotional, and language functions. The doctor believes something happens in the second trimester when brain cells are being formed. Another issue, the CDC says the average age of diagnosis is 4-years-old. "We know that that's really too late."

That's why Doctor Pierce is attacking the problem two ways. "I developed this eye tracking test."

Babies watch a one minute movie. On one side of the screen, kids are dancing, on the other side, moving geometric shapes. “And they will fixate on that and they won't look at the social images and when a baby does that, um, so far, that's been 99-percent accurate that that child is actually going to be on the spectrum."

She's also using imaging to show abnormalities in children's brains. The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the treatment, and a better chance kids like Luca have a normal life.

Doctor Pierce was in the running in 2012 for Time Magazine's Most Influential People for her work in the field of diagnosing autism. She says the goal of the team's research is to discover an autism test that could give a diagnosis at birth.

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