It’s difficult to diagnose autism spectrum disorder (ASD) before the age of two years. Clearly, the sooner problems can be identified the better to allow for earlier intervention. A new study from Yale School of Medicine offers a clues to early signs of the disorder.
It is well established that children with ASD tend to be less attentive to visual social cues. The latest study, A new study found that infants who later developed ASD were less attentive to someone’s facial features than when that person was speaking to them than when the person was not talking.
Usually, an infant develops improved visual contact skills with monthly development. Yet the opposite was found for infants who later developed ASD. According to researchers, they not only looked at all faces less than the control group, but when shown a face that was speaking, they actually looked away from key facial features such as the eyes and mouth.
From the Nature article “Attention to eyes is present but in decline in 2–6-month-old infants later diagnosed with autism”: These observations mark the earliest known indicators of social disability in infancy, but also falsify a prior hypothesis: in the first months of life, this basic mechanism of social adaptive action—eye looking—is not immediately diminished in infants later diagnosed with ASD; instead, eye looking appears to begin at normative levels prior to decline.
However, don’t assume that your child is developing autism simply on the basis of visual contact. And don’t expect to be able to observe the difference between an infant’s attention when someone is speaking and when not speaking. The change can be so subtle that eye-tracking technology was used in the study to measure the difference.
Research abstract here.