November 7th, 2013
11:36 AM ET

Study: Signs of Autism May Show Up As Early As First Month

A new study reveals scientists have detected autism earlier than before, CNN Elizabeth Cohen reports.

The first signs of autism may be visible as early as the first month of a child's life, according to a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature.

"These are the earliest signs of autism ever observed," says lead study author Warren Jones.

Researchers at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta followed 110 children from birth to age 3, at which point a diagnosis of autism was ascertained. Fifty-nine babies were considered "high risk" for developing an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because they had siblings with autism; 51 were considered "low risk" because they did not have first, second or third-degree relatives with ASD.

Data was collected at 2, 3, 4 ,5, 6, 9, 12, 15 and 24 months of age. Each time, the children watched videos showing actresses playing the role of a caregiver. "Every baby watched the same videos, and then we could measure what was different about the responses of infants later diagnosed with autism versus infants who were typically-developing," Jones says.

Lack of eye contact is one of the red flags when it comes to autism – a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

Jones, who is the director of research at Marcus Autism Center and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, says he really expected the children later diagnosed with autism would have diminished eye contact from birth. Instead, he and his colleagues measures how much time each baby was looking at the eyes of the caregiver in the video.

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