Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, said it's well-established that unlike typical kids, young children with autism pay more attention to objects than people. "However, this is the first study to my knowledge that has used blinking to assess how engaged a child is with what he or she is viewing," Dawson said.
The results suggest that blinking could be used as a way of measuring whether therapies designed to help a child with autism increase their emotional engagement are working, she said.
"If a child is not visually engaged with the social world, this can affect the development of neural systems that underlie social behavior which rely on social stimulation for development," she added. "The hope is that, as a result of therapy, the young child with autism will show higher levels of attention and engagement with the social world and this will open up opportunities for learning."
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on autism.
SOURCES: Warren Jones, Ph.D., director, research, Marcus Autism Center, and assistant professor, department of pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta; Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., director, Center for Autism & Related Disorders, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore; Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer, Autism Speaks; Dec. 12-16, 2011, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online
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