[caption id="attachment_1017" align="alignleft" width="199" caption="Image courtesy of photostock"][/caption] A report from the January edition of Current Biology titled, “Infant Neural Sensitivity to Dynamic Eye Gaze Is Associated with Later Emerging Autism” has shed some light on heretofore unknown signs of autism in infants as young as 6 months of age. Though the findings of this study are decidedly inconclusive, the indication that there may be a way to predict, and hence treat, autism earlier in life is encouraging. The Research Researchers from the University of London’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development tracked two groups of children from the ages of 6-10 months through their second and third birthday (around the time that a typical diagnosis of autism is determined). The test group consisted of children who were from a family with a history of autism (that is, a sibling with diagnosed ASD) and the control consisted of those without any family history. Researchers measured the children’s response to visual stimuli through what they call “dynamic gaze shifts toward versus away from the infant.” Because of autism’s main deficit is processing social cues, the belief is that some at-risk infants may show early signs of ASD thorough eye contact or lack thereof. The study’s results, “support the conclusion that cognitive and brain function measures can successfully differentiate groups of infants at risk from low-risk control within the first year of life.” Implications and Further Research As more and more is discovered about the treatment of ASD, the emphasis on early intervention holds. Therefore, the earlier autism signs can be detected, particularly within at-risk groups, the more prepared parents and educators will be in terms of long-term treatment and success. This study, clearly, focused mainly on genetic-related ASD diagnosis since all children in the research group already had a sibling with ASD, which is but one of the many posited causes of the disorder. However, the overall trend towards studying infants in encouraging regardless of the cause of ASD in one particular child. As all autism research seems to indicate, we know so very little about the functioning of the human brain that each small victory is a huge step in combatting the worst of this disease. As the authors of the study explain themselves: Taken together, our findings potentially allow for the early identification of those infant siblings who are at highest risk for developing later impairments, paving the way for the more selective targeting of early intervention efforts and procedures. Source: Elasbbagh, M., Mercure, E., Hudry, K. et. al. (2012) Infant neural sensitivity to dynamic eye gaze is associated with later emerging autism. Current Biology. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2011.12.056
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