Structural MRI is most often used in clinical practice to exclude non-psychiatric causes for psychopathology. For example, it is routine in many centres to obtain an MRI examination in all first episodes of psychotic illness to exclude tumours, arteriovenous malformations, or other rare (but surgically treatable) causes of psychosis. Clinical examination of these cases may also sometimes reveal abnormalities such as hippocampal sclerosis or callosal agenesis which suggest that psychopathology has been determined by birth injury or abnormal development. In assessment of a patient with dementia, MRI may usefully demonstrate signs of vascular disease (such as infarcts or periventricular white matter changes), or a focal pattern of grey matter atrophy suggestive of Pick's disease (frontal cortex) or Huntington's disease (caudate nucleus and frontal cortex). All of these abnormalities may be detected simply by skilled visual examination of the data. However, clinical diagnosis of the subtler abnormalities associated with, say, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or autism would require quantitative analysis of the patient's data and access to a database of normative MRI measurements on appropriately matched samples of the general population. Neither quantitative analysis nor normative databases are widely used in current radiological practice, thus limiting the value of MRI to clinical psychiatry, but this may be expected to change in the future.
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Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests itself in early childhood and affects the functioning of the brain, primarily in the areas of social interaction and communication. Children with autism look like other children but do not play or behave like other children. They must struggle daily to cope and connect with the world around them.