Autism Spectrum Disorder

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to identify brain patterns associated with autism spectrum disorder.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – is characterized by developmental delays, communication problems, abnormal social skills, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems—all ranging from mild to severe. Today, an estimated 1 in 59 children are currently affected by the condition, according to the CDC. ASD is an umbrella term that includes a number of conditions, including autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Pervasive Development Disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

Who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

The prevalence of ASD has been increasing at an alarming rate in the past few decades. Today, an estimated 1 in 59 children are currently affected by the condition, according to the CDC. And boys are 4 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ASD.

What are the Core Symptoms of ASD?

Signs of autism typically appear by age 2 or 3, but they can occur earlier in some children. The following list shows some of the symptoms of the developmental disorder. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, not all people with the condition will exhibit all of these symptoms.

  • Delayed speech
  • Poor eye contact
  • Social withdrawal
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Having an intense focus on something
  • Trouble understanding social cues
  • Difficult reading facial expressions
  • Repetitive movements (such as rocking or hand flapping)
  • Having difficulty dealing with changes in routines
  • Self-harmful behaviors (such as head-banging)
  • Having difficulty carrying on a conversation


What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?

It is now understood that ASD is not caused by just one thing. Rather, this broad condition can have many different causes. Research suggests there may be a genetic component that can be influenced by environmental factors to trigger the condition.

While the research community continues to investigate the possible causes of this condition, certain factors that increase risk have been identified, including having older parents, having a sibling with ASD, having genetic conditions, such as Rett Syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, or Down syndrome, extreme premature birth or having a very low birth weight, and pregnancies less than one year apart.

Untreated, misdiagnosed, or delayed diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is associated with higher incidences of:

  • Developmental problems
  • More severe symptoms
  • Immune disorders (allergies, asthma)
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Motor disorders
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Schizophrenia
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Autism Spectrum Disorder Treatment?

In addition to understanding the ASD brain patterns, there are other ways the brain SPECT imaging used at Amen Clinics can help. Children with autism often struggle with other mental health conditions, such as ADD/ADHD, depression, and anxiety. According to a growing body of research, over 70% of children with ASD have at least one additional co-existing medical or psychiatric condition, and over 40% have two or more such conditions. SPECT brain imaging can help show if these conditions are present in addition to ASD so that treatment can be targeted to address all of the issues you or your child have. Be aware that the sooner a child with autism gets help, the more effective treatment will be. Early intervention can help with your child’s overall development and decrease symptoms as they grow up. It’s important to realize that adults can also benefit from treatment at any age.

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Autism Brains Work Differently

Autism is one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in America today. For those affected by this disorder, there is hope. By using SPECT imaging, we can better diagnose and measure the severity and progression of the disorder. These biomarkers provide valuable information for developing individual treatment plans for our patients. Autism appears to affect early brain development, including the way neurons communicate with one another. However, there is not just one brain problem found in ASD, but actually 8 to 10 factors that can influence abnormal brain function. During the past few decades, Amen Clinics has seen more than 1,000 children and adults with ASD. The SPECT brain imaging studies of these patients reveal that their brain patterns tend to have high activity or low activity (even both in some cases).

Healthy Brain Scan

ASD Brain Scan

Brain activity patterns in ASD are quite varied, making it even more important to look at the brain using SPECT imaging. The areas that can be of concern and are most relevant when looking at ASD in the brain are found in the cerebellum, anterior cingulate gyrus, amygdala, frontal and temporal lobes. Brain SPECT scans also serve as a tool for measuring the progress of the treatment plan provided and to continue to develop the best and most effective course of treatment options via behavior modifications, medication and supplement management and lifestyle modifications.

SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) is a nuclear medicine study that evaluates blood flow and activity in the brain. Basically, it shows three things: healthy activity, too little activity, or too much activity. A healthy “active” scan shows the most active parts of the brain with blue representing the average activity and red (or sometimes red and white) representing the most active parts of the brain. In the healthy scan on the left, the most active area is in the cerebellum, at the back/bottom part of the brain. The scan on the right is of a 9-year-old boy with ASD shows high activity in a Ring of Fire pattern, as well as lower internal activity in the cerebellum.

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High & Low Activity Patterns in ASD

Currently, the diagnosis of ASD includes a clinical history, mental status examination and structured screening tools, leaving clinicians in the dark as to the underlying physiology. At Amen Clinics, we frequently see increased activity in the anterior cingulate, leading to obsessive behavior, and decreases in the temporal lobes and cerebellum, which are often associated with learning issues.  Having SPECT scans on ASD patients has helped us better target treatment to our patients.

High Activity Patterns in ASD

Increased activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus and lateral prefrontal cortex, relating to symptoms such as:

  • Repetitious speech and behavior
  • Getting stuck on thoughts
  • Problems with transitions and change


An overall increase of activity throughout the brain, which may be associated with inflammation and be related to:

  • Mood instability
  • Emotional meltdowns
  • Anxiety

Low Activity Patterns in ASD

A smaller, less active cerebellum, contributing to:

  • Impeded or poor motor skills
  • Problems with learning and thought coordination


Decreased activity in the back portion of the brain, especially in the parietal and temporal lobes, contributing to:

  • Communication difficulties
  • Learning problems
  • Sensory processing issues
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Overall decreased activity and “scalloping” (a bumpy looking surface on the scan image)



“With A Better Brain Comes A Better Life”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.


Autism Spectrum Disorder Testimonials

Jacquelin's Story

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