Early signs of autism can be identified in the first months of life, research has shown.
Scientists used eye-tracking technology to measure the way infants look at and respond to social cues.
Children later diagnosed with autism showed a reduced tendency to notice the gaze of other people from the age of two months onwards.
“We found a steady decline in attention to other people’s eyes, from two until 24 months, in infants later diagnosed with autism,” said investigator DrAmi Klin, director of the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, US.
“First, these results reveal that there are measurable and identifiable differences present already before six months.
“And second, we observed declining eye fixation over time, rather than an outright absence.
“Both these factors have the potential to dramatically shift the possibilities for future strategies of early intervention.”
Autism is an umbrella term for a range of developmental problems involving social and communication skills which can be mild or seriously disabling.
The scientists, whose findings appear in the journal Nature, warned that what they observed was not visible to the naked eye but could only be measured using specialised equipment.
“To be sure, parents should not expect that this is something they could see without the aid of technology,” said study leader Dr Warren Jones, the director of research at the Marcus Autism Center.
“They shouldn’t be concerned if an infant doesn’t happen to look at their eyes at every moment,” he said.
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