Through the Eyes of Autism

Looking at the world through the eyes of autism

Autistic children literally look at the world and the people around them differently than other children do, according to a study published online Sunday in the journal Nature.

In this study, researchers from the Yale School of Medicinetracked the eye movements of 2-year-olds watching cartoons. Doctors have noted that newborns normally pay special attention to people — a valuable habit, given that infants are so vulnerable and dependent on their caregivers. By studying their caregivers, newborns pick up important social cues that help them interact.

Instead of paying attention to the people in the cartoon, however, autistic kids focused on other physical details — such as sounds and motions that occurred at the same time — that the other children disregarded. Autistic babies who focus on “non-social” sounds and motion in their environment miss out on the chance to learn about interacting with parents, siblings and others, according to the study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The same researchers also have found that autistic toddlers who do interact with people look less at eyes and more at mouths. Doctors hope to use this testing to detect early signs of autism in babies who are at higher risk for the disorder, such as children with autistic older siblings.

— By Liz Szabo, USA TODA

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