Autism’s Subtle Early Signs: More Findings from Infant Eye Tracking

Date: February 11, 2014
Study adds to earlier research showing autism-related attention differences at 6 months; opportunity for earlier intervention?

Study authors Katarzyna Chawarska, Suzanne Macari and Frederick Shic (left to right) examine results of an eye tracking study in the Yale Early Social Cognition Lab. Photo courtesy Yale University School of Medicine.

Infants who go on to develop autism not only look at faces less than other babies do, they also tend to look away from important facial features when a person speaks, according to a new study.

The findings, by researchers at Yale University School of Medicine, appear in the February issue of Biological Psychiatry. They add to those of a recent eye-tracking study that likewise associated autism with subtle differences in attention to faces among 6-month-old babies.

“Babies who later develop autism may already have difficulties focusing on important social information at 6 months,” says study author Frederick Shic. “This, in turn, could be hampering the early development of their social and communication skills.” Dr. Shic’s co-authors included Yale psychologists Suzanne Macari and Katarzyna Chawarska.

“If children at high risk for autism are identified at such an early age, it may be possible to develop ways to assist their social development,” comments Alycia Halladay, Autism Speaks senior director for environmental and clinical sciences.

Dr. Shic is part of the Autism Speaks Baby Siblings Research Consortium (BSRC). The BSRC brings together research groups from around the world with the mission of discovering the earliest predictors of autism. Much of their research focuses on the younger siblings of children diagnosed with autism. These “baby sibs” are at higher than average risk of developing autism because the disorder tends to run in families.
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