Lack of Eye Contact In Infants Could Be An Indicator of a Future Autism Diagnosis

Did you know …4842-344x228-Eye_contact

  • A child can be born with a genetic liability, but how autism is expressed can be changed between birth and 2 years due to brain development
  • It is anticipated that over the next few years the diagnosis of autism will occur at infancy
  • Visual fixation time (how much time a child spends looking) is different for children with autism, typical children and developmentally delayed children
  • Social interaction is the platform for brain development
Dr. Ami Klin

Dr. Ami Klin

I had the opportunity to view an excellent webinar by Dr. Ami Klin, Director of the Marcus Autism Center (NIH Center of Excellence), Emory University.  The Marcus Center is looking at social / visual engagement, social / vocal engagement and then developmental treatment. It was fascinating to learn that babies attend to eyes up to 2 – 3 months of age. All babies start with eye fixation at least 50% of the time as eyes are the reflexive behavior, genetically determined, subcortically controlled. Between 2 – 4 months this changes to interactional, reward driven, experienced dependent and cortically controlled. As the babies grew older, Dr. Klin found that children who are later diagnosed with autism decreased attention to the eyes.  You may be asking yourself, ‘what is the importance of looking at eyes?’ It is not just for eye contact, but for the child to get the sense of value at looking at another. It is an issue of engaging the child.

He studied a set of babies at two months and eye contactfound that all of them looked at the eyes. Then in the next 24 months typical children continued looking at the eyes, but children later diagnosed with autism begin decreasing significantly in this amount of time. A 16 month old child with autism often does not look at the eyes, but looks towards the mouth. In the 2nd year of life babies with autism became focused on objects. Interestingly, some of the high risk babies for autism have course correction at 9 months. The question is why?

EarlyIntervention4Dr. Klin is working with Dr. Amy Wetherby of Florida State University the author of the Autism Navigator™. The Autism Navigator™ for Early Intervention Providers is a web-based instructional system that addresses the need to increase the capacity of early intervention (EI) service providers to appropriately serve young children with ASD. Designed to support a mentoring model for delivering instructional content, it focuses on using effective consulting and coaching strategies to support intervention in everyday routines, activities and places in collaboration with families.

Dr. Klin’s motto, “Autism is an issue of diversity not disability” is his ultimate goal. His dream is not to cure autism, but to promote diversity and do away with its burdens. I concur!

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