Learning to Detect Autism in Babies

 The results of the study by Dr. Katarzyna Chawarska, associate professor at the Yale Child Study Center, and her colleagues and published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, showed that these infants paid less attention to people and their activities than normally developing babies,. What is now also confirmed is that autism outcomes are enhanced by early intervention.

 Since medical tests do not exist, detecting autism is complex.  Instead, developmental milestones are usually monitored by parents in consultation with physicians and psychologists who supervise and confer with multidisciplinary teams if concerns arise.

 The researchers led by Dr. Katarzyna Chawarska, studied whether six-month-old infants later diagnosed with ASD showed early signs of ASD such as an impaired ability to attend to social overtures and activities of others. Prior to these findings, it wasn’t apparent if these prodromal symptoms were present in the first year of life.

 “This study highlights the possibility of identifying certain features linked to visual attention that can be used for pinpointing infants at greatest risk for ASD in the first year of life,” said Chawarska. “This could make earlier interventions and treatments possible.”

 Chawarska and her team administered an eye-tracking task to 67 infants at high risk for developing autism, and 50 low-risk infants. They also used eye-tracking know-how to screen how frequently the babies viewed the sight, the toys, the woman, and her eyes and mouth.They established that these six-month-old  infants, later diagnosed with ASD, when compared with the control groups, looked less at the social scene, and when they did pay attention to the scene, they spent less time monitoring the woman’s face.

  “This work is highly consequential for identifying new treatment targets and early intervention strategies,” said Chawarska. Their focus now is on finding the precise causes that show the way towards diminishing social attention in infants with rising social vulnerabilities.

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