-- Robert Preidt
THURSDAY, Feb. 6, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Infants who shifted
their gaze from faces of people who were speaking were more likely
to be diagnosed with autism when they were older, a new study
This is the first time that this type of abnormal response to
speech at a young age has been linked to a future diagnosis of
autism, the authors noted.
The researchers used eye-tracking technology to map the eye
movements of 99 infants at 6 months of age as they were shown
videos of still, smiling and speaking faces. The children were
checked for a diagnosis of autism when they were 3 years old.
Infants who later developed autism not only looked at all faces
less than other infants, but also looked away from important facial
features such as the eyes and mouth when a face was speaking.
The findings suggest that in infants who are later diagnosed
with autism, speech disrupts the normal processing of faces. This
can impair children's social and communication links with others
and affect their social development, according to study author Dr.
Frederick Shic of the Yale University School of Medicine.
The study was published in the February issue of the journal
Although the study found an association between shifting gazes
from faces in infants and later diagnosis of autism, it did not
establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
Autism can't be diagnosed until a child is at least 2 years old,
but these and other findings show that autism-related behavior and
attention problems may be present as early as 6 months of age,
according to a journal news release.
If children with autism are identified at such an early age, it
may be possible to develop ways to assist their social development,
the news release suggests.
"It seems clear that brain changes related to autism appear much earlier than we traditionally diagnose this disorder," journal editor Dr. John Krystal said in the release. "This study elegantly illustrates that autism-related disturbances in social relatedness are present very early in life, shaping one's most fundamental social contacts."
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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