Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Eye-Tracking Test Suggests Autism in Toddlers

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Eye-Tracking Test Suggests Autism in Toddlers

Article excerpt

Toddlers at risk for autism spectrum disorders preferred to look at geometric patterns more than social images in a 1-minute experiment, in contrast to developmentally delayed and developmentally typical toddlers, according to a study of 110 children aged 14-42 months.

"When the percentage of time a toddler spent fixating on geometric patterns was 69% or greater, the positive predictive validity for accurately classifying that toddler as having an autism spectrum disorder was 100%," Karen Pierce, Ph.D., of the department of neuro-sciences, Autism Center of Excellence, University of California, San Diego, and her associates, reported in the journal.

Other investigators have used eye-tracking technology to assess differences between autistic and other infants and young children in response to pictures of faces. However, "given the active pace of brain development during the infancy period combined with high intersubject variability of eye tracking patterns to faces during this time, examining the percentage of time an infant attends to the eye region of a face may not be stable enough to make diagnostically predictive claims," Dr. Pierce and her colleagues noted (Arch.

Gen. Psychiatry 2010 Sept. 6 [doi:10.1001 / archgenpsychiatry2010.113]). 'An alternative method to investigate early indicators of autism is to measure a very simple behavior: preference."

Developmentally typical infants and toddlers are known to show a distinct preference for faces when presented with two different images to look at. "What infants prefer to look at when given a choice between two images may turn out to be a more clearly observable indicator of risk than how they look at a single image," the researchers said.

To test this hypothesis, they used eye-tracking technology to monitor subjects' gaze when watching split-screen moving images of children dancing or performing yoga on one side (dynamic social images) and moving geometric shapes on the other (dynamic geometric images). This movie contained 28 separate scenes, with each scene varying in duration from 2 to 4 seconds, for a total presentation time of 1 minute.

The study subjects were 110 toddlers (aged 14-42 months). A total of 37 children had autism spectrum disorders (27 with autistic disorder, 9 with pervasive developmental delay not otherwise specified, and 1 with autism spectrum features). Another 51 children, matched for age and gender, were develop-mentally typical. And 22 children who had developmental delay (12 with language delay and 10 with global developmental delay) were matched with the autism group based on chronological age, verbal and nonverbal developmental quotient as assessed on the Mullen Scales of Early Learning, and overall functioning. …

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