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Blink Patterns May Be a Window Into Autistic Mind
Date:12/13/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Dec. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Toddlers with autism show different blink patterns than other children, a finding that researchers say may provide a clue to the way people with autism process what they see.

Blinking is largely an involuntary process that helps keep the eyes hydrated and protected. During that split second that your eyes are closed, you are temporarily blinded. And throughout a typical day, adults spend about 44 minutes with their eyes closed.

The current study got started when Sarah Shultz, a graduate student at the Yale Child Study Center, noticed that kids blink less often when watching videos. She and her colleagues wondered: Would kids with autism, who have impairments in social communications, including reading facial expressions and interacting with others, show the same blink timing?

In the study, researchers had 93 typically developing children and children with an autism spectrum disorder, all aged 2, watch short videos of two children in a wagon who get into an argument over whether the wagon door should be open or shut. Using eye-tracking technology, the researchers tracked when and how often the kids blinked.

Researchers found that both the kids with autism and typically developing kids blinked less during the video.

However, typical kids blinked less during the emotional exchange between the kids, while the autistic kids blinked less when there were moving parts, such as the wagon door being slammed.

"We have a new way of understanding not just what people are looking at but how engaged they are with what they're looking at," said senior study author Warren Jones, director of research at the Marcus Autism Center and an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

"The more engaged you are, the less likely you are to blink," Jones said. "That's what we saw with
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