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Watch Out for Signs of Autism in Babies!

Within days of their birth, healthy babies will look you in the eye. By 4 months, they will delight in others. And by 9 months, they will exchange smiles. If they dont or perhaps they avoid you, then that is reason to worry.

There is a growing field in psychiatry called infant mental health. Doctors and scientists are increasingly looking for early signs in babies of autism, attention deficit disorder and other mental problems that just a generation ago, scarcely anyone thought could appear in children so young.

Some scientists even believe that intensive treatment in some susceptible babies can actually prevent autism, attention deficit disorder and other problems.

An influential Institute of Medicine report in 2000 helped energize this idea. The report emphasized the plasticity of babies' brains. It also explained how interacting with babies can change their brain wiring.

"We used to say 'nature versus nurture,' but now people really think it's 'nature through nurture,"' said the University of Chicago's Dr. Lawrence Gray.

Babies typically begin making eye contact soon after birth, and "understand at a basic, perhaps hardwired level, that eyes are special -- they look more at eyes than at other parts of the face," said Sally Ozonoff, an autism specialist at the University of California at Davis' MIND Institute.

Some cases of very early attention and treatment resulting in considerable progress have been reported.

Interest in infant mental health has been boosted by awareness of the prevalence of attention deficit disorders and autism, which government officials said in February affects 1 in 150 U.S. children and may be more common than previously thought.

In April, researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders presented a report emphasizing earlier diag
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