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Pitt study focuses on early signs of autism

The University of Pittsburgh will use $9.6 million from the National Institutes of Health to try to identify the earliest signs of autism and their underlying mechanisms.

The money awarded to Pitt's Center for Excellence in Autism Research will come over five years. Researchers will try to learn how people with autism solve problems and reason, said Dr. Nancy Minshew, the center's director and a professor of psychiatry and neurology. They will try to find genes contributing to autism.

The program consolidates two Pitt programs. One includes researchers from Carnegie Mellon University.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. It is grouped with similar disorders referred to informally as autism spectrum. Its underlying causes are unknown.

The research at Pitt will focus on the differences in the thought processes of people with autism and their brain development, including how faces and face emotion are recognized, how language is understood, how decisions are made and problems solved.

Researchers will study infants, their siblings, preschoolers and people up to 55 with autism who are verbal and have IQ scores between 80 and 120. The studies are accepting volunteers who want to participate. For information, call 412-246-5485 or visit autismrecruiter@upmc.edu .

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