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Infant's gaze may be an early, but subtle, marker for autism risk
Date:9/1/2010

(Baltimore, MD) Kennedy Krieger Institute announced today new study results showing an early marker for later communication and social delays in infants at a higher-risk for autism may be infrequent gazing at other people when unprompted. Published in the September issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the study also found that six-month-old high-risk infants demonstrated the same level of cause and effect learning skills when compared to low-risk infants of the same age.

The study observed 25 infant siblings of children with autism (high-risk group) and 25 infants with no family history of autism (low-risk group) at six months of age in order to assess cause and effect learning as well as social engagement. Infant siblings of children with autism are considered at high-risk for the disorder, as they are 25 times more likely to develop autism. Researchers at Kennedy Krieger, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Delaware, created a novel, multi-stimuli social learning task, where infants were seated in a custom chair with an attached joystick within easy reach, a musical toy located to the right and their caregiver on the left. Researchers evaluated how quickly the infant learned that the joystick activated the toy and the infant's level of social engagement with their caregiver.

Researchers found that, like the low risk group, the high-risk siblings exhibited typical levels of social gazing when their caregivers actively engaged them, such as pointing at the toy and expressing excitement. However, high-risk sibs spent less time looking to their caregivers and more time fixated on the non-social stimuli (toy or joystick) when the caregiver was not engaging them, which could indicate a disruption in development related to joint attention. Joint attention is often a core deficit for children with autism.

"My colleagues and I wanted to create a task that would involve learning something no
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Contact: Colleen Butz
cbutz@spectrumscience.com
202-955-6222
Kennedy Krieger Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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