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Vision Abnormality Seen in Close Relatives of Autism Patients
Date:8/2/2010

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- In another sign that autism is at least partly inherited, a new study reveals that close relatives of people with the disorder share something in common: their eyes are much more likely than those of other people to function abnormally.

"There are brain abnormalities that run in families with autism," said study co-author John A. Sweeney. "These findings might be telling us that there's an important genetic contribution to autism."

The causes of autism, which affects an estimated one in 110 children in the United States, are unclear, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of children diagnosed with the disorder has risen in recent years, but it's not clear if that's largely due to more awareness or some other factor, such as something in the environment around these children.

Previous research has suggested that family members of autism patients are more likely to have some minor brain impairments than other people, said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization.

In the new study, researchers looked for signs of eye abnormalities that are common in people with autism. They often have difficulty tracking moving objects in the first milliseconds that they look at those objects, explained Sweeney, director of the Center for Cognitive Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The abnormalities are minor and probably have no significant impact on vision, Sweeney said. "These parents are walking around fine, and it's unlikely that these [abnormalities] are going to affect anyone's life."

Still, the vision abnormality suggests that something has gone awry in the brain.

Sweeney and colleagues studied the eye movements of 57 close relatives -- 42 parents and 15 siblings of people with autism. They compared them to 40 other people who were s
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