Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Toddler Gaze Patterns Could Lead to Earlier Intervention in Autism. (CHILD/ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY)

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Toddler Gaze Patterns Could Lead to Earlier Intervention in Autism. (CHILD/ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY)

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- A team of autism researchers has found that patterns of social-visual engagement are markedly more similar among identical twin toddlers than among fraternal twins.

Social-visual engagement (SVE), which can be measured using eye-tracking technology, is how humans give preferential attention to social stimuli--in particular, people's eyes and mouths, which provide important information for communication.

Lower levels of SVE have been shown to be associated with the later development of autism, even in children just a few months old (Nature. 2013 Dec 19;504:427-31). "But what hasn't been shown until now is that this measure relates to genetics," said Natasha Marrus, MD, PhD, of the department of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis.

In the current study, led by John N. Constantino, MD, of the departments of psychiatry and pediatrics at the university, the investigators recruited 126 twin pairs (25% identical), and evaluated them using two measures: at 18 months, a toddler-adapted scoring measure of reciprocal social behavior, which comprised a caregiver questionnaire with a video-referenced anchor for typical social behavior, and at 21 months, a measurement of social-visual engagement detected through eye tracking, Dr. Marrus, a coinvestigator reported at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The identical twins, who share 100% of their genes, "showed much more similar levels of social-visual engagement than fraternal twins," Dr. Marrus said, with an intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) of 0.91 (95% confidence interval, 0.85-0.95) for time spent looking at eyes, compared with 0.35 (95% Cl, 0.07-0.59) for fraternal twins. Similar results were obtained for the caregiver questionnaire, suggesting strong genetic influences on both early reciprocal social behavior and SVE, said Dr. …

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