A new study carried out by the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) has identified what could be a simple and inexpensive screening tool for detecting autism in young children.
Dr Karen Pierce from the University Of California San Diego School Of Medicine and her colleagues showed a group of young children a 1 minute video showing geometric patterns in the form of a computer screen saver on one side of a monitor, and a clip of children involved in social movement (yoga and dancing) on the other side.
The aim was to find out whether very young children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) focussed more on the geometric patterns or on social movement, and whether an ASD could be predicted.
The study, which has been published in the September 6th Edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry, involved 110 young children between the ages of 14 and 42 months.
Of these children, 37 had an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and 22 were classed as developmentally delayed (DD) but did not actually have an ASD. The remaining children were free from autism and had a typical development (TD).
What the researchers found was that 40 percent of the children with ASD spent more time focussing on the geometric patterns than on social movement. Almost 10 percent of the DD kids focussed on the patterns more and just less than 2 percent of the kids with a typical development.
They also found that if a child spent more than 69 percent of the time focussing on the geometric patterns, an Autistic Spectrum Disorder could be predicted 100 percent of the time.
Eye tracking equipment was used to follow the line of gaze of the children and although the children did switch their gaze from one side to the other, those with ASD showed less eye movement when looking at the patterns and showed more frequent eye movement than the other kids when looking at the images children in the social video.
A follow up of 41 of the kids which took place 8 months later showed that the way they originally viewed the videos hadn’t really changed.
The results indicate that a preference for geometric patterns over social movement and how long they gazed at the geometric patterns could offer an inexpensive and easily used screening tool for ASD.
The study concluded that “a preference for geometric patterns early in life may be a novel and easily detectable early signature of infants and toddlers at risk for autism”.Learn how I beat Depression