Enhanced visual search abilities in infancy could help predict the development of autism in later childhood, says a British study.
The newly discovered link by Birkbeck, University of London and King's College London could be useful in early autism detection before the onset of clinical symptoms.
The study investigated superior perception which is a common symptom of autism. The researchers studied the infants who are known to be at higher risk of autism based on the diagnosis of an older sibling.
The researchers used an eye tracker to record their gazes as they were presented with 'odd-one-out' tests involving letters.
Using standard screening methods, the participants were assessed for signs of autism at nine-months, 15 months and two years of age.
The study results showed that infants with enhanced visual searching ability at nine-months had emergent autism symptoms at 15 months and at two years.
The study suggests that the unusual perceptual ability of infants is linked to the emerging autism symptoms.
Dr Teodora Gliga of Birkbeck's Babylab, lead author of the study said, "The prominence of social interaction and communication problems later in development were very much suggestive of a specific 'social brain' deficit. Evidence is now accumulating for early differences in non-social motor and perceptual abilities, which calls for a reassessment of developmental theories of autism."
"It is the sensory unpredictability of social interaction, but also of many other aspects of daily life, that people with autism most often report as distressing, and we hope this study and others will bring autism research questions closer to the needs of those directly affected," said, Gliga.
The study suggests that eye-tracking may be useful for screening tests for early signs of autism.
The study is published in Current Biology.