Washington, Sept 2 (ANI): An infant's gaze may be an early, although subtle, marker for autism, says a new study.
Researchers at Kennedy Krieger, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Delaware, created a novel, multi-stimuli social learning task, where infants were seated in a custom chair with an attached joystick within easy reach, a musical toy located to the right and their caregiver on the left.
They evaluated how quickly the infant learned that the joystick activated the toy and the infant's level of social engagement with their caregiver.
The team found that high-risk sibs spent less time looking to their caregivers and more time fixated on the non-social stimuli (toy or joystick) when the caregiver was not engaging them, which could indicate a disruption in development related to joint attention.
Joint attention is often a core deficit for children with autism.
"This study shows that there is a particular vulnerability in high-risk siblings at six months of age. They are not as socially interactive and engaged on their own as their peers, but still respond typically when engaged by their caregivers, making for a subtle difference that could be easily overlooked by both parents and some professionals," said Dr. Rebecca Landa.
However, the study did not show evidence of impaired associative learning in the high-risk siblings.
"Babies in both groups of the study learned the multi-stimuli task to the same degree," said Landa.
The findings reveal that like older children, infants at high risk for autism may benefit from frequent exposure to simple cause and effect learning opportunities to aid in their development.
A follow up for the study will soon be published from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute. (ANI)