Among children 8 years of age, 1 in 88 are estimated to have an autism spectrum disorder, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Several disorders fall under this classification, including autistic disorder or classic autism, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger’s disorder, Rett’s disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.
Some children on the autism spectrum may show signs of the disorder very early in life. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that a child may not respond to her name by 12 months old.
Other children on the autism spectrum may reach normal developmental milestones up until age 18 or 24 months, then either lose skills they developed or stop gaining new ones.
Now new research has noted a risk factor for autism that can be detected as early as 7 months old with the use of eye tracking equipment.
The study included 57 infants who were considered high risk for developing autism — all of these children had an older sibling diagnosed with the disorder. These children were matched with 40 infants considered low risk for developing autism, as they did not have an older sibling with autism.
When the children were assessed at age 2, 16 of the high risk group were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. These children were classified as “high-risk positive,” while the children who were in the high risk group but did not develop autism were classified as “high-risk negative.”
Researchers looked at these infants’ eye movements. While sitting on their parents’ laps, the infants watched images on a computer screen. They measured different eye movement task times, such as the time it took to begin an eye movement from a central image to the periphery of the screen.
In addition to the eye movement tasks, the study included brain imagery, specifically diffusion-weighted imaging, which shows how the neural circuits in the brain are organized.