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Autistic Children Make Limited Eye Contact

Finding could offer doctors a chance to treat the disorder earlier,,

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 6 (HealthDay News) -- While poor eye contact has long been a suspected sign of possible autism, researchers at Yale University have used "eye-mapping technology" to prove that children with autism don't make eye contact like normally developing children do.

Published in the August issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, the new research found that children with autism spent more time looking at an adult's mouth instead of gazing into the eyes.

"Just as the eyes are the window to the soul, the eyes are also a window into social development," said study senior author Ami Klin, director of the autism program at Yale University School of Medicine.

Klin said that by using eye-mapping technology, it's possible that a vulnerability for autism could be identified much earlier than is currently possible. And, he said, "The earlier we are able to identify children, the better it is, because early interventions make a difference in optimizing children's outcomes."

It's estimated that autism, a developmental disorder that disrupts communication and social interaction, affects about 3.4 out of every 1,000 children between the ages of 3 and 10, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Parents are generally the first to notice early signs of autism. The NIMH says that some known early signs that may indicate an autism spectrum disorder in a child include:

  • By age 1, doesn't babble, point or gesture.
  • Doesn't speak a single word by 16 months.
  • By age 2, hasn't combined two words.
  • Seems to lose language skills.
  • Interacts poorly socially.
  • Doesn't respond to his or her name.
  • Doesn't smile.
  • Makes poor eye contact.
  • Doesn't appear to know how to play with toys and may repeatedly line up toys or other objects.

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