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Earliest Sign of Autism: The Eyes May Have It

Mon, Nov 18, 2013

Clinical News Room

“It has helped us to identify the earliest signs of autism that we’ve ever observed. And it gives us some proof that it’s possible to identify these signs within the first months of life,” said Dr. Warren.

The study was published online November 6 in Nature.

Prior Hypothesis Contradicted

Although deficits in eye contact have been a hallmark of autism, information on the onset of these problems has not been investigated before.

“Unexpectedly, those early levels of eye looking seem to begin at normative levels,” the researchers write. “This contradicts prior hypotheses of a congenital absence of social adaptive orientation and suggests instead that some social adaptive behaviors may initially be intact in newborns later diagnosed with ASD,” they add.

Earlier this year, as reported by Medscape Medical News, researchers from Yale presented preliminary findings from a pilot study at a press briefing organized by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

These results showed that brain activity, as recorded by electroencephalogram (EEG), after toddlers made eye contact was weaker for those with ASD compared with their normally developing counterparts.

In the current study, the investigators sought to explore the association between eye contact and ASD in a younger population.

“We were looking for precursor signs rather than the final manifestation of symptoms. For example, if we wait for the heart attack to happen, it’s harder to make progress. Similarly, we were trying to look for mechanisms of typical social development and the way those mechanisms may not be developing in kids with autism,” said Dr. Jones.
Dr. Warren Jones

The researchers enrolled 110 infants and divided them into 2 groups. The high-risk group consisted of those who had an older full sibling diagnosed with ASD (n = 59), whereas the low-risk group did not have any first-, second-, or third-degree relatives with ASD (n = 51).

Medscape Medical News; November 14, 2013; Written by Deborah Brauser

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