Kennedy Krieger & University of Delaware: ‘Infant Gaze’ Autism Research

Photo by: Wesley Oostvogels/Flickr

Many parents of children with autism express that one of the first indications that their child may not be developing normally was their lack of eye contact and human engagement.

Children with autism have a tendency to avoid eye contact, even when prompted by caregivers and adults. They often are unresponsive to clapping, cooing, and verbal stimulation in their developmental stages, but it is not until later on, generally around 2.5 to 3 years, that many of them are diagnosed.

Before this age however, researchers are suggesting that the child’s tendency to choose human engagement over objects can indicate much about their development and possibly clues to whether they could develop problems in the future.

Kennedy Krieger researchers, in cooperation with scientists at the University of Delaware, recently did a study regarding infant gaze and it’s association with autism.  They developed a new multi-stimuli social learning task in which infants sat in a custom chair equipped with an easy-to-reach joystick, along with a musical toy to the right and their caregiver to the left (Pederson, T. 2010).

They tested 50 six-month-old children. Twenty-five of them were siblings of children with autism (high-risk group). The other 25 had no family history of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (low-risk group). The researchers goal was to assess the ’cause and effect learning and levels of social engagement.’ Note: the infant siblings of children with autism are considered at high risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder because, according to past research, they are 25-times more likely to develop autism.

The study was featured in the September issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Dr. Rebecca Landa, corresponding study author and director of Kennedy Krieger’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders revealed:

“This study shows that there is a particular vulnerability in high-risk siblings at six months of age. They are not as socially interactive and engaged on their own as their peers, but still respond typically when engaged by their caregivers, making for a subtle difference that could be easily overlooked by both parents and some professionals.”

While much research is still needed on this topic, this study could help to uncover tiny but relevant aspects of development that could serve as clues to physicians and parents.

To view more information on this study CLICK HERE


  1. Pederson, Traci.”Infant’s Infrequent Gaze Possible Cue for Autism.” Psych Central 2 Aug. 2010: 1. Psych Central Research News. Web. 2 Sept. 2010.< infants-infrequent-gaze-possible-cue-for-autism/17591.html>.
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