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J Child Neurol. 2007 Oct;22(10):1182-90.

Rate of head circumference growth as a function of autism diagnosis and history of autistic regression.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington Autism Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Several reports indicate that autism spectrum disorder is associated with increased rate of head growth in early childhood. Increased rate of growth may index aberrant processes during early development, may precede the onset of symptoms, and may predict severity of the disease course. We examined rate of change in occipitofrontal circumference measurements (abstracted from medical records) in 28 boys with autism spectrum disorder and in 8 boys with developmental delay without autism from birth to age 36 months. Only children who had more than 3 occipitofrontal circumference measurements available during this age period were included. All data were converted to z scores based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention norms. Rate of growth from birth to age 36 months was statistically significantly higher for the autism spectrum disorder group than the developmental delay group, with children with autism spectrum disorder showing a statistically significant increase in occipitofrontal circumference relative to norms between 7 and 10 months; this group difference in rate of growth was more robust when height was used as a covariate. Rate of growth was not found to be different for children with autism spectrum disorder whose parents reported a history of loss of skills (regression) vs those whose parents reported early onset of autism symptoms. Findings from this study suggest that the aberrant growth is present in the first year of life and precedes the onset and diagnosis in children with autism spectrum disorder with and without a history of autistic regression.

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