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Eye movements and autism

Wouldn't it be good if we could detect signs of autism in early infancy and do something to mitigate the effects? It has long been recognised that visual attention is abnormal in established autism: compared to normals these children fix their gaze for shorter time-spans and move their eyes more rapidly. Researchers from Cambridge and London used sophisticated corneal reflection eye-tracker technology to assess visual attention at a millisecond level (Wass SV, et al. Nature Sci Rep 2015;5;8284). They recruited 94 infants aged 6 to 9 months: half were high-risk in that they had an autistic sibling and the others were low-risk controls. Eye movements were measured while they were shown a series of static scenes, one of which was a face. They were followed up to age 3 years, when they underwent assessment for autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) using the standard Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Broader cognitive development was also assessed using the Mullen Early Learning Composite (ELC) scores. Compared to controls, fixation durations were significantly shorter in the high-risk group that turned out to have abnormal ADOS scores, …

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