NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An important development in the early diagnosis of autism could lead to improved treatment.

Researchers have discovered changes in the brains of young infants who later go on to develop autism.

As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez explained, new research may lead to the diagnosis of autism before symptoms occur.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill looked at the brain scans of infants at high risk of developing the disorder at 6, 12, and 24 months of age. They were able to predict which ones were going to develop autism spectrum disorder with 80 percent accuracy.

“We see an increased rate of growth in the outer surface of the brain, the folds, the sort of waviness of the surface. That’s followed by an overgrowth of the brain in the second year,” Dr. Joseph Piven explained.

The overgrowth of the brain coincided with the emergence of typical autism behaviors that start to show around the age of two.

Researchers said by identifying the brain changes early, there’s the possibility of developing better therapies and even drugs before the brain fully forms.

“It’s a time we’re talking about during the first year of life where the brain is most malleable,” Dr. Piven explained.

Infants at a high risk of developing autism are babies who have an older sibling with the disorder.

Experts said the value of the study shows a possibly reliable tool to test whether early interventions could reduce the risk of a child with an enlarged brain going on to develop autism.

Right now there are no proven ways to reduce the risk of autism, but even so alerting a family of the possibility would allow them to prepare for early behavioral therapy which has been shown to improve the level of function in autistic children.