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Autistic Toddlers Prefer to Gaze at Geometric Patterns: Study
Date:9/7/2010

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Sept. 6 (HealthDay News) -- When given the choice to gaze at geometric patterns or children dancing and playing, toddlers with autism spent more time looking at the patterns while typically developing toddlers preferred to look at other kids, a new study finds.

The finding could be another clue to helping doctors and parents spot the disorder early, when treatment can be most effective, experts said.

In the study, researchers showed 110 toddlers ages 14 months to 3.5 years old two video screens, each of which was simultaneously playing a one-minute video. One video was of "screensavers" that featured moving geometric shapes and patterns; the other video was of children dancing, jumping, smiling and playing.

About 37 of the children had either been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or were later diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder; 22 of the children had another developmental delay, while 51 were developing in the usual way.

While children viewed the videos, researchers used an "eye tracker" -- a tiny infrared beam bounced off the lens of the toddlers' eyes -- to measure where the children focused their gaze.

About 40 percent of children who had been diagnosed with autism or who were later diagnosed with autism spent more than half of the time staring at the geometric patterns, while only one (less than 2 percent) of the typically developing toddlers preferred the geometric patterns.

About 9 percent of children with developmental delays preferred the geometric patterns.

All of the children who showed the strongest preference for the geometric pattern -- that is, they gazed at it more than 69 percent of the time -- had autism, according to the study.

"Only autistic babies looked at the geometric patterns more than 69 percent of the time. No normal babies did at all," said lead study author Karen Pierce, an assistant profe
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