-- Randy Dotinga
FRIDAY, Sept. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists report that they
may have detected signs of autism in 6-month-old babies, but it's
too early to know if the findings could lead to earlier diagnosis
of the condition.
Currently, doctors can only diagnose autism in the second year
of life or later, Robert T. Schultz, director of the Center for
Autism Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, explained
in an interview. Earlier diagnosis could make a difference for kids
because "generally, the feeling in the field is that the earlier
the intervention, the better the child's outcome," said Schultz,
who was not involved in the study but is familiar with the findings
of the new research.
The researchers studied 25 babies who had siblings with autism,
putting them at higher risk for the disorder, and 25 other babies
whose families didn't have a history of autism.
The investigators allowed the babies to figure out how to play
with a toy while their caregivers sat nearby. The babies at higher
risk of autism spent more time fixated on the toy than the other
babies and less time looking at their caregivers when the
caregivers weren't engaging them.
"This is about social initiation. The baby siblings of children with autism looked less often and with less duration. It's something parents should keep an eye on," said study co-author Rebecca Landa, director of Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders.
But the differences between high-risk and lower-risk babies at
this age may be too small for parents to notice, said Schultz. He
suggested that parents should focus on looking for possible signs
of autism in their children after the age of 1 year. Lack of eye
contact is one red flag, he noted.
The study, published in the September issue of the
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, saw no difference in cause-and-effect learning abilities between the two groups of children.
In another recent study, researchers at the New York State
Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities reported
seeing other subtle signs of autism in infants.
When they looked at babies who had spent time in the neonatal
intensive care unit, they found that those later diagnosed with an
autism spectrum disorder were more likely to have had differences
in visual processing and abnormal muscle tone at 1 month of age
than the other babies.
That research is published in the September issue of
For more about
autism, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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