My Executive


    Nov 08, 2013

    When a baby's gaze may signal autism

    BABIES later diagnosed with autism reduced their eye contact with people by six months of age, a finding that may lead to ways to identify the disorder earlier in life, researchers said.

    Almost 60 babies who were thought to be at high risk of autism were examined in the study, as were 51 babies considered at low risk, according to a report released by the journal Nature.

    Later, 13 children were diagnosed with autism.

    While a lack of eye contact has been a hallmark of autism since the disease was first described, it's not known exactly when it begins to occur, wrote study authors Warren Jones and Ami Klin, both of Emory University in Atlanta.

    The report released yesterday suggests that while newborns don't initially show any difference in looking directly at people's eyes, changes occur from two months to six months of age. Babies who had the steepest declines in eye contact tended to have the most severe autism.

    "If confirmed in larger samples, this would offer a remarkable opportunity," the authors wrote. The findings may mean there's a developmental window when autism may be treated or attenuated.

    Children with autism may be unresponsive to people, become indifferent to social activity and have communication difficulties.

    The babies viewed as at high risk of developing the condition came from families with an autistic sibling. The low-likelihood families had no autistic relatives.

    Researchers tracked the eye movements of the infants 10 times from the ages of two months and 24 months as they watched videos of women. When the toddlers were three, they were assessed for autism.