Autism Signs May Appear in First Months of Life
Before babies can crawl or walk, they explore the world around them by looking at it. This is a natural and necessary part of infant development, and it sets the stage for future brain growth. By using eye-tracking technology, scientists were able to measure the way infants look at and respond to different social cues. This new research suggests that babies who are reluctant to look into people’s eyes may be showing early signs of autism.
The researchers at Marcus Autism Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University School of Medicine followed babies from birth until age 3, and discovered that infants later diagnosed with autism showed declining attention to the eyes of other people, from the age of 2 months onwards.
The study broke up the infants into two groups, one at low risk for having autism spectrum disorders and one at high risk. High-risk infants had an older sibling already diagnosed with autism, which increased the infant’s risk of also having the condition. Low-risk infants, on the other hand, had no relatives with autism.
Once the children turned 3, teams of clinicians assessed the children and confirmed their diagnostic outcomes. Then the researchers analyzed data from the infants’ first months to identify what factors separated those who received an autism diagnosis from those who did not.
What they found was, in infants later diagnosed with autism there was a steady decline in attention to other people’s eyes. This decline in eye fixation occurred from 2 until 24 months of age. These are the earliest signs of autism ever observed. These results also have the potential to significantly effect future strategies of early intervention.
However, the researchers caution that what they observed in their study would not be visible to the naked eye, and it is not something that parents would be able to see on their own. Instead, it requires specialized technology and repeated measurements of a child’s development over the course of months.
Infants-Marcus Autism Center
BBC News-Autism signs ‘present in first months’ of life