Autistic toddlers focus on mouths rather than eyes

September 27th, 2008 - 4:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 27 (IANS) Two-year-olds with autism focus more on mouths of others than on eyes, which presages the level of disability, according to a new study.The study’s co-author Warren Jones and colleagues Ami Klin and Katelin Carr of Yale School of Medicine used eye-tracking technology to quantify the visual fixations of two-year-olds who watched caregivers approach them and engage in typical mother-child interactions, such as playing games like peek-a-boo.

“The findings offer hope that these novel methods will enable the detection of vulnerabilities for autism in infancy,” said Jones. “Earlier intervention would capitalise on the neuroplasticity of the developing brain in infancy.”

After the first few weeks of life, infants look in the eyes of others, setting processes of socialisation in motion. In infancy and throughout life, the act of looking at the eyes of others is a window into people’s feelings and thoughts and a powerful facilitator in shaping the formation of the social mind and brain.

The study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The scientists found that the amount of time toddlers spent focussed on the eyes predicted their level of social disability. The less they focussed on the eyes, the more severely disabled they were, according to a Yale School of Medicine statement.

These results may offer a useful biomarker for quantifying the presence and severity of autism early in life and screen infants for autism. The findings could aid research on the neurobiology and genetics of autism, work that is dependent on quantifiable markers of syndrome expression.

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