Uncommon Object Examination in Infancy Might Be Early Predictor of Autism
If a child has autism, it is helpful to know at an earlier age so that earlier interventions can be carried out. Early predictors can be critical to a timely diagnosis. A new study says parents may have an indication of how their child is visually examining objects.
Researchers at the University of California Davis studied the way infants aged 9 months and older interacted with objects and then measured their social interactions. They found that children who visually examined the objects in unusual ways were later more likely to be diagnosed with autism. The study was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
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An unusual visual inspection includes looking out of the corner of your eye, holding an object very close to your face, looking at something with your eye closed, or continuously staring at an object for more than 10 seconds. Meghan Miller, lead study author and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UC Davis, says this type of behavior has been linked to autism at an older age, but never in someone as young as 9 Months old.
Miller says, “The results support major theories of autism that suggest that infants’ excessive focus on objects may compromise their interest in people. Ultimately, this study suggests that unusual visual inspection of objects may precede development of the social symptoms characteristic of ASD. “
To conduct the study, the research team evaluated 89 infants who were classified as high risk for autism due to an older sibling in the spectrum, and 58 infants whose older sibling had typical development. The infants completed tasks involving playing or using various objects six times, starting at 9 months of age and ending at 3 years of age.
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After each session, the researchers examined the children’s social behavior, including the frequency of eye contact, the frequency of smiling, and social responsiveness. They also kept an eye out for unusual visual inspections, twists and turns of objects.
By the time participants turned 3 years old, 58 children were classified as non-ASD at low risk, 72 as non-ASD at high risk, and 17 were diagnosed with autism.
While there was no strong association between developing autism and spinning or spinning objects, the children who developed ASD were more likely to undertake unusual visual inspection of objects by the age of 9 months than the other groups. This behavior then continued at higher rates for this group in all age groups.
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Researchers say these results could help with autism screening in the future.
Sally Ozonoff, the study’s lead researcher and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UC Davis, explains, “Increasing focus on objects early in life can adversely affect social behavior. The results of our study suggest that unusual visual exploration of objects can be a valuable addition to early screening and diagnostic tools for ASA. “
To learn more about other early signs of autism, read more here.