In a new study, researchers have found that the amygdala grows too rapidly during the critical developmental stage of six months to one year in babies who go on to develop autism.

The team from the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS) Network published their work in the latest edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry, the official journal of the American Psychiatric Association.

They studied 408 infants including 58 infants they deemed at increased likelihood of developing autism due to older siblings with autism, as well as more than two dozen infants with Fragile X Syndrome. They conducted MRI scans at six, 12, and 24 months of age, and they discovered that both the size and rate of growth of the amygdala were linked to a later diagnosis of autism.  The same was not the case for the babies with Fragile X Syndrome who experienced no overgrowth of the amygdala.

The amygdala is a pair of almond-shaped structures deep within the brain that help regulate emotion, encode memories, and drive the “fight or flight” response to fear and stress.  While this overgrowth has been previously discovered in older children, this is the first study to find it in infants prior to diagnosis.

“This is ground-breaking work that spans 10-universities from the United States and Canada,” said Dr. Theresa Hamlin, President of The Center for Discovery®. “Many parents report that the social difficulties we see in older children and adults with autism are not present in that first year of life.  The IBIS team theorizes that these babies however are having difficulty processing visual and sensory information in their world.  This would place an enormous amount of stress on the amygdala and possibly lead to increased growth.  Combating stress is one of the hallmarks of our work here at The Center.”

Dr. Hamlin is the author of Autism and the Stress Effect, in which she details The Center’s more than 40-years of research and experience in taking care of and educating the most complex individuals, as well as other science compiled by researchers around the world on the delicate balance between the brain, adrenal and nervous systems, and stress.

“Children with autism typically experience continuous stress as they try to understand the social, emotional, and the temporal complexity of the world around them (Bergland 2014),” writes Dr. Hamlin,” “Stress impacts a person biologically as well as psychologically. For children with autism, this can be particularly dangerous over time…will result in a cascade of poor health and medical problems.”

She further explains that this is a day-to-day, minute-by-minute process that encompasses environmental, cellular-biological, psychological, or emotional factors like: change in routine, unpredictable events, new social dynamics, toxins in the environment, poor diet, bodily pain and more.  The book outlines four of the six pillars of The Center’s HealthE6® model of care followed by TCFD’s extensive multi-disciplinary team in its care and education of hundreds of residents and students.

“We explore Environmental Regulation and what can be triggers in our daily surroundings, Eating and Nutrition – in particular the brain-body benefits of an organic, whole foods diet, Emotional and Energy Regulation and techniques to bring the body back into balance,” Dr. Hamlin said, “They are all equally critical components to the health and well-being of those with autism and their families – really everyone.”

The easy-to-read and implement, information-dense book can be found at

The IBIS study, led by scientists at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institute of Mental Health, Autism Speaks and the Simons Foundation.

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