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Infants' Inattentiveness Might Signal Later Autism, Study Says

FRIDAY, Feb. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Attention problems might be seen in 6-month-old infants who are later diagnosed with autism, a new study says.

Yale School of Medicine researchers found that these infants paid less attention to people's overtures and activities than infants who did not develop autism, according to the study recently published online in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

This information could be used to identify infants at greatest risk of developing autism and provide them with early treatment, the researchers said.

"This work is highly consequential for identifying new treatment targets and early intervention strategies," said Katarzyna Chawarska, associate professor at the Yale Child Study Center and a study co-author.

The study included 67 infants at high risk for developing autism and 50 low-risk infants. Their eye movements were tracked while they watched a video of a woman doing everyday things, such as making a sandwich, looking at toys, or speaking.

Compared to the other infants, those who were later diagnosed with autism spent less time watching the social activities depicted in the video. When they did pay attention, these infants spent less time watching the woman's face.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired communication and social interactions. The researchers said this is the first study to show that early signs of autism are present in the first year of life.

The researchers are now trying to determine the specific causes behind this lack of attention to social activities in infants later diagnosed with autism.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, Feb. 5, 2013

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