Failure to make eye contact is a classic sign that a child may fall on the autism spectrum. But it has commonly been thought that children cannot actually be diagnosed with autism until they are at least 2 years old.
Now, a study released this month that was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is challenging that timeline. The study, published in the journal “Nature” shows that children later diagnosed with autism demonstrate a steady decline in attention to other people’s eyes from 2 to 6 months old. This finding could lead to earlier detection and, therefore, more effective treatment of autism.
In this study, doctors followed a group of children from birth to age 3. Half of the group fell into a high-risk category, because they had older siblings already diagnosed with autism. Eye-tracking equipment was used to determine where the children looked when watching video clips of their moms or other caregivers. It was found that the children later diagnosed with autism had a steady decline in eye contact, focusing half as long as those children not on the spectrum.
Researchers believe that identifying signs of autism at a younger age will give medical professionals more tools to keep the children’s social development more in line with that of their peers.
If you are a parent, would you be in favor of a tool that could potentially diagnose your child at an earlier age?