Children with autism are usually diagnosed after the age of 2 years old, when delayed social and language skills are noticed. One of the telltale signs is a lack of eye contact. Experts agree that the earlier a child is diagnosed, the sooner interventions can begin and the more effective treatment is. A new study shows that it may be possible to diagnose autism much earlier - between 2 and 6 months old.
The recent study looked at 110 children and followed them from birth to 3 years old. A little more than half of the babies (59) were considered at high risk for developing autism because the had a sibling with ASD. The rest (51) were considered a lower risk.
Researchers showed the babies video images of their caregivers 10 separate times over two years. They used eye-tracking equipment and software to analyze where the babies looked during the video. “Babies come into the world with a lot of predispositions toward making eye contact. Young babies look more at the eyes than at any part of the face, and they look more at the face than at any part of the body,”  Warren Jones, co-author of the study and research director at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, GA., told Nature.
By the end of the study, 13 of the babies had been diagnosed with ASD - 12 from the high risk group and 1 from the low risk group. Of those diagnosed with ASD, researchers had noted that these children had begun to look less at the eyes of their caregiver than the those who were not diagnosed with ASD - beginning at 2 months old. By 24 months, these children were looking at their caregiver’s eyes about one-half the times as those without autism. Interestingly, between birth and 2 months old, these children looked at their caregivers eyes just as much as those who were not later diagnosed with ASD.
The researchers don’t believe that this information can yet be used to diagnose ASD in babies, but believes it is an important first step. Their study was small and the results would need to be duplicated in a much larger study before it could be used as a screening tool for ASD, “That’s our long-term future objective,”  says Jones. Being able to screen for autism beginning at 2 months old means interventions can start that much sooner.
Researchers plan to use this information to create a screening test for doctors and they plan on looking for additional ways to tell whether a child has autism at younger ages.
  “Autism Symptoms Seen in Babies,” 2013, Nov 6, Ewen Callaway, Nature
Published On: November 11, 2013