The Way Your Kid Thinks About Hugging Can Predict Autism

mom hugging daughterA hug can be a powerful thing. It can be a way to show affection, or a simple pick-me-up gesture for anyone in need. And according to new research, a hug can also serve as a way to identify and confirm autism.


That's right. A hug can be that telling.

In a new study, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University used brain imaging to predict autism diagnoses with 97 percent accuracy. Those are some pretty amazing odds. And here's how they did it: the team studied and scanned the brains of 34 people; 17 with high-functioning autism, 17 without. All participants were then asked to think about different social interactions, including hugging. And that's where the differences were noticeable. Through brain mapping, the scientists found that in the group of individuals without autism, hugging was seen as a personal interaction, one in which the individuals imagined themselves doing the hugging.

More from The Stir: The Reason So Many Kids Today Have Autism -- Explained

But when they asked the same question to the group with autism, this self-related brain activity didn't exist. In fact, these individuals perceived hugging as completely unrelated to them and seemed instead to be "considering a dictionary definition or watching a play," explains Marcel Just, the study's lead researcher.

And this slight change in how they perceived a hug allowed researchers to correctly classify the group as being on the autism spectrum disorder.

So at a time when one in 68 American children is on the spectrum, the research could mean big things for diagnoses. Dr. Nancy Minshew, a neurology professor at the University of Pittsburgh and leading autism researcher, calls the study "a big advance" in the autism community.

And it's mainly because of its clear definition. As of now, autism diagnoses usually rely on interviews and observations of behavior. But with the introduction of the brain scan, which the University calls the "first biologically based diagnostic tool," the diagnoses can potentially become easier and more clear-cut.

And as we know, early diagnosis and intervention can be key in helping children with autism.

What do you think of the research?


Image via Syda Productions/shutterstock

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