Article

Infant Neural Sensitivity to Dynamic Eye Gaze Is Associated with Later Emerging Autism

Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College, University of London, London WC1E 7HX, UK.
Current biology: CB (Impact Factor: 9.57). 02/2012; 22(4):338-42. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.12.056
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT

Autism spectrum disorders (henceforth autism) are diagnosed in around 1% of the population [1]. Familial liability confers risk for a broad spectrum of difficulties including the broader autism phenotype (BAP) [2, 3]. There are currently no reliable predictors of autism in infancy, but characteristic behaviors emerge during the second year, enabling diagnosis after this age [4, 5]. Because indicators of brain functioning may be sensitive predictors, and atypical eye contact is characteristic of the syndrome [6-9] and the BAP [10, 11], we examined whether neural sensitivity to eye gaze during infancy is associated with later autism outcomes [12, 13]. We undertook a prospective longitudinal study of infants with and without familial risk for autism. At 6-10 months, we recorded infants' event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to viewing faces with eye gaze directed toward versus away from the infant [14]. Longitudinal analyses showed that characteristics of ERP components evoked in response to dynamic eye gaze shifts during infancy were associated with autism diagnosed at 36 months. ERP responses to eye gaze may help characterize developmental processes that lead to later emerging autism. Findings also elucidate the mechanisms driving the development of the social brain in infancy.

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    • "First, children at risk for ASD may show selective impairments in processing information from the eyes. Interpreted from this perspective, our results are in line with those of Elsabbagh et al.[22]who found altered ERP's in response to gaze cues in infants who later fulfilled diagnostic criteria for an ASD, as well as with the findings that individuals with ASD look less at eyes252627and have difficulties interpreting eye information[23,24]. Another possibility is that children at risk for ASD are less sensitive to directional cues in general and need more cues in order to respond typically. "
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    • "With the first overt behavioural symptoms appearing only toward the end of the first year of life, affected infants will typically not be routinely diagnosed before their third birthday (E.J.H. Jones et al., 2014). However, results from infant sibling studies suggest that the underlying differences in brain function that later on give rise to the behavioural symptoms may already be evident during the first year of life (Elsabbagh et al., 2012; Lloyd-Fox et al., 2013). Despite this, to our knowledge, no studies have directly investigated brain response to human vocal sounds in infants at high risk of ASD. "
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    • "In contrast to typically developing children, those who develop ASD show slower face processing [90], lack of differentiation of gaze direction toward vs away [91], decreased attention to social scenes [92] [93], and no quickened response to an object cued by eye gaze [94], signifying a defect in joint attention. We suggest that the non-social AV brain specialization alters the response to social experience, consistent with the finding that children with ASD are effective processors of nonhuman AV stimuli, but they exhibit lower processing scores than typical when faces and voices are involved [95]. "
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