Premature Babies May Not Exhibit Early Autism Symptoms

premature autistic babies

As mentioned in a previous article on Hear Our Voices, autism signs can often be spotted even during infancy. When babies do not maintain eye contact with those around them, this is often a clue that the child may be on the spectrum.

But preemies are more difficult to read. A new study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy tracked babies who were diagnosed as toddlers with ASD. Of those children, the babies prematurely born did not tend to avert their gaze as infants.

The infants within this study were all born at least 10 weeks before their due date. Of the preemies who were studied, about 21 percent showed signs of autism when they were screened as toddlers. The purpose of the screening checklist is to alert parents that further testing may be necessary to rule out the possibility.

Gaze aversion is an autism indicator that parents and professionals are being taught to look for in an infant. Early diagnosis and intervention is key when it comes to effective autism treatment, leading to more successful outcomes in the child’s life for the long term. Preemies who are later diagnosed with ASD, however, may have different symptoms to watch for.

Researchers speculated that autism indicators may manifest themselves in an opposite sense with a premature baby. While a neurotypical child who averts their gaze during infancy could be signaling social difficulties, which is characteristic of autism, it is actually normal for a premature baby to avert their eyes.

Preemies are vulnerable when first entering the world, and gaze aversion helps them cope with the stress. It was hypothesized that the preemies who did not avert their gaze were missing the ability to avoid stressors. It is rare to confirm an autism diagnosis before the age of two, so early indicators are a focal topic within the field of autism research.

The findings in this study may be probed further since the sample size was just 62 babies; of those infants, only 58 were awake during the study window.

Information sourced from this article on

By Hannah Jay

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