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Visual pattern preference may be indicator of autism in toddlers
Date:9/6/2010

Using eye-tracking methods, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have shown that toddlers with autism spend significantly more time visually examining dynamic geometric patterns than they do looking at social images a viewing pattern not found in either typical or developmentally delayed toddlers. The results of the study suggest that a preference for geometric patterns early in life may be a signature behavior in infants who are at-risk for autism. This preference was found in infants at-risk for autism as young as 14 months of age.

In testing 110 toddlers ages 14 to 42 months, we found that all of the toddlers who spent more than 69 percent of their time fixing their gaze on geometric images could be accurately classified as having an autism spectrum disorder or ASD, said Karen Pierce, PhD, an assistant professor in the UCSD Department of Neurosciences and assistant director of the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence. The study will be published in the September 6 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

During this study, babies ranging in age between 12 and 42 months sat on their mothers lap as they watched a one-minute movie that contained shapes moving on one side of the screen (i.e., dynamic geometric patterns) and children dancing and doing yoga on the other (i.e., dynamic social images). Using an infrared light beam that bounces off the eye, Pierce and colleagues were able to measure what the baby liked to look at by measuring the amount of time they examined each side of the screen. Interestingly, the dynamic geometric patterns that absorbed the attention of autistic but not normal babies, was nothing more than a common screen saver found on most computers.

Out of 51 typical infants in this study, only one preferred to look at the geometric images. However, not all autistic toddlers preferred the geometric shapes. In the UCSD study, 40 percent of the ASD toddlers had t
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Contact: Debra Kain
ddkain@ucsd.edu
619-543-6163
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert  

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