(HealthDay News) – Infants at risk for developing autism spectrum disorders already show abnormalities in their patterns of eye contact in their first year, which may allow earlier intervention, according to a study published online Jan. 26 in Current Biology.

Noting that atypical eye contact is characteristic of autism, Mayada Elsabbagh, Ph.D., from the University of London, and colleagues recorded event-related potentials in 104 6- to 10-month-old infants (54 at risk of autism due to having a sibling with the condition and 50 controls) while they viewed faces with a static direct gaze or an averted gaze.

The researchers found that the two groups differed in their response to dynamic eye gaze shifts. These differences in patterns of eye contact were associated with a diagnosis of autism at 36 months of age.

“Taken together, our findings potentially allow for the early identification of those infant siblings who are at highest risk for developing later impairments, paving the way for the more selective targeting of early intervention efforts and procedures,” Elsabbagh and colleagues conclude.

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