An American study has found that infants and babies affected with Autism are less likely to hold eye contact and be aware that a person is communicating to them.
The research conducted by Emery School of Medicine in Atlanta Georgia and published in Nature journal looked at the deficit in eye contact of infants aged two and six months.
Deficits in eye contact is one of the indicators that a child is autistic. A marked decline in sustained eye contact was observed by researchers in children between two to six months who later went on to be diagnosed as autistic. Infants who were not diagnosed with autism continued to hold a gaze for a longer period of time.
The researchers hope to use this eye tracking tool as another form of early diagnosis for autism and ASD.
They study used videos containing social cues and involved 59 children of high risk of having autism, because siblings had a prior diagnosis and 50 infants at low risk.
Talking to BBC News on November 6, lead researcher Dr Warren Jones:
“It tells us for the first time that it’s possible to detect some signs of autism in the first months of life.
These are the earliest signs of autism that we’ve ever observed.”
Of the test group 13 of the children, 11 boys and two girls went on to get a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum. The results surprised the research group.
Dr Jones said:
“In infants with autism, eye contact is declining already in the first six months of life. It’s not something that parents would be able to see by themselves at all. If parents have concerns they should talk to their paediatrician.”
Caroline Hattersley, head of information advice and advocacy from the National Autistic Society UK told Autism Daily Newscast:
“While it’s encouraging to see research that might improve understanding of autism, this study is based on a very small sample and needs to be replicated on a far larger scale before any concrete conclusions can be drawn.”
“Autism is a very complex condition. No two people with autism are the same, and so a holistic approach to diagnosis is required that takes into account all aspects of an individual’s behaviour. A more comprehensive approach allows all of a person’s support needs to be identified.
“It’s vital that everyone with autism can access a diagnosis, as it can be key to unlocking the right support which can enable people with the condition to reach their full potential.”