Parenting

Autism detectable in first two to six months

According to a new study from Emory University in Atlanta  published this week in the journal Nature, while autism and related disorders are usually diagnosed in toddlers between the ages of three and five years, infants as young as two months begin to exhibit declining eye contact and facial recognition by following eye-movement patterns associated with a later diagnosis of autism.

The small study of 110 American infants, published Tuesday, assessed how those at high risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders (those with siblings who had received similar diagnoses) were able to follow facial cues and make eye contact with caregivers, compared to low-risk infants (those with no relatives who had been diagnosed with ASD).

Dr Warren Jones of Emory's Marcus Autism Center and his colleague Ami Klin used specially designed eye-tracking technology to follow the gaze patterns of infants at ten stages of development, starting from two months through 24 months. They showed the children videos of “mom” or caregiver-like figures, and tracked eye-movement patterns across the screens.

While children who were later deemed developmentally typical paid increasingly more attention to faces and made more eye contact with caregivers during the first 18 months of life, Jones’ team found that the children confirmed to have an Autism Spectrum Disorder at a later age displayed markedly different eye-fixation patterns.

“What we found was that infants later diagnosed with autism looked less and less at mom’s eyes over time. They showed a steady decline in eye-looking from two to 24 months of life – and that decline was already happening within the first six months of life,” Jones said.

But what is encouraging, he added, is that some level of typical eye-fixation is found even in infants who later receive an ASD diagnosis.

This study “tells us that the unfolding of social disability is already happening at an early age, but it does also tell us that some of the attention to the eyes [and faces] of others – which we think of as a basic, early adaptive action – is there. And more of it is there than we expected to find. This gives us hope that in the future, if we could identify children with ASD at early points, we could intervene in ways that could build on that foundation of eye-contact” and facial recognition skills, Jones said.

Rebecca Landa, the director of Kennedy Krieger Institute's autism center, called Jones and Klin’s study “quite promising,” though preliminary.

“More research is needed using [this same] methodology to determine the sensitivity and predictive value of specific gaze patterns for an ASD diagnosis, and to find out how stable these atypical gaze patterns are in children with and without ASD,” she said. For instance, further studies may want to focus on children who do not have family history of autism spectrum disorder, to see if they display the same early-onset facial and eye-contact avoidance patterns.

“Finding early markers of ASD is very important because early intervention could have a profound positive impact on neural and behavioral development and, thus, improve outcomes of at risk children,” Landa added. “These new findings provide leads for researchers attempting to identify mechanisms that cause derailment in development.”

Early intervention is the eventual hope of Jones and colleagues, who are now running a second generation study using their same methodology. The next round is set to include over 300 children and is currently under way.

As a note to parents, Jones stressed that the eye-movement patterns analysed in his study cannot be detected with the naked eye by parents, and that more research is needed before any diagnostic tools or interventions can be made widely available.


See more in the 'Parenting' section

Comments


Be the first to add your comments




Comment on this article



Login to submit a comment

 

  Discover Card Miles Application

 

What we offer

GajGal is an expanding community of mothers helping mothers. Our motto “Get a Job | Get a Life” is based on the belief that for mothers wanting to get back into the workforce, finding a job with “the right level” of flexibility, empowers working mothers to live life on their own terms and better control their own destiny.
GajGal aims to address this “new reality” through four core components:

  • 1. Job Search and Matching tools to streamline finding the perfect fit for flexible work arrangements.
  • 2. Access to Benefits that in the traditional work environment have been provided by full time employers. GajGal helps to provide a critical mass of members to ensure access to a range of benefits options that we are continually working to expand and improve on.
  • 3. Working Mother Community to provide access to news, blogs and articles of interest and importance to working mothers and a social networking community that working mothers can interact with and draw on for support.
  • 4. The Entrepreneur Zone is for mothers aiming to start their own business and expand on the concepts of working mothers helping working mothers succeed.

Success stories

GajGal Testimonial

Shayne Duke
“Using your Benefits link made it easy to select from a wide range of health insurance offerings and narrow down the various plans available that best fit my needs. Being able to make a side by side comparison of the details further helped me make an informed decision on a plan with great rates. The application is swift and uncomplicated”

GajGal Testimonial

Amy Rogers
“ WOW this is a fantastic idea aimed at a true need. I have had a hard time preparing to go back to work after staying home with my two kids for the past 4 years. I am so excited to start adding my requirements and get started on the search. The Latest News and Benefits are an excellent idea. I would come here to read this even if I wasn't looking for a job right now”