Emory University Researchers Correlate Baby Eye Gaze with Autism

Researchers at the Marcus Autism Center at Emory University have identified a marker of autism in children as young as two months old. In an article published in the journal Nature, researchers Warren Jones and Ami Klin explain the results of their prospective longitudinal study; infants who are later diagnosed with autism tend to show a decline in the amount of time they spend gazing at another person’s eyes, a marker of social ability, between two and six months old.

Contrary to prior belief, infants who go on to later receive a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder do begin life looking at others’ eyes at an expected rate. The researchers explain that the decrease in eye gaze between two and six months represents a “developmental window, ” and the decrease of eye gaze as it occurs in this window is especially significant. Typically developing children, the researchers explain, increase their rate of eye gaze until approximately 9 months of age, at which point it remains relatively stagnant until toddlerhood. Interestingly, the researchers also found that infants who exhibit the steepest decline in eye gaze later go on to develop more pervasive forms of autism.

While the researchers are clear that their results need to be replicated in larger populations, they suggest that eye tracking may soon be used in a fashion similar to a growth chart to observe if a child is on an appropriate developmental trajectory.

To see the article in it’s original form: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature12715.html

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By: Stephanie Millman