Babies' Eye Contact May Offer Clue to Autism

Researchers see dropoff at 2 months, earliest sign yet

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 6, 2013 3:33 PM CST

(Newser) – A new autism study makes what looks to be a significant discovery: The first signs show up as early as two months of age in the form of reduced eye contact by babies, reports the New York Times. If the findings hold up, they could provide doctors with the earliest warning yet that a child is developing the disorder—a big deal because research suggests that the earlier treatment begins, the more effective it is. The study "tells us for the first time that it's possible to detect some signs of autism in the first months of life," one of the Emory University researchers tells the BBC. "These are the earliest signs of autism that we've ever observed."

The researchers studied two groups of kids from birth to age 2 with sophisticated eye-tracking technology. One of the groups was deemed high risk because of a sibling with autism. The researchers then went back when the kids were 3 and found a clear correlation between those who had been recently diagnosed with autism and their eye contact as babies. The dropoff began between two and six months of age, and the more severe it was, the more severe the case of autism. An autism researcher not involved with the study called it a "major, major finding." The researchers say this isn't something parents would likely be able to notice on their own, notes HealthDay via US News & Report. Nor do they want parents to panic if their child isn't maintaining constant eye contact. But "if they do have persistent concerns, they should talk to their child's pediatrician," adds one.

  (Shutterstock)
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