Autism is a complex developmental disorder that affects how a person behaves, interacts with others, communicates, and learns. The earlier that treatment for autism begins, the better chance the child has for a positive long-term outcome. Thus, diagnosing autism as early as possible is critically important. Typically, diagnoses of autism depend on evaluating a child’s social and relational behaviors, and most children are diagnosed when they are toddlers. Scientists are looking for key clues to autism that can be detected at earlier ages.
Researchers supported by the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch examined about 100 infants at 7 months and again at 2 years. The children who were later diagnosed with autism took a split second longer to shift their gaze at 7 months compared with typically developing infants. The difference between the groups’ test results was 25 to 50 milliseconds long, too brief to be detected in social interactions with an infant. However, the difference was measureable using sophisticated eye tracking software. Ultimately, measures like this could be used to support early diagnosis of autism. (PMID: 23511344)