Toddlers' Fixation on Moving Patterns May Predict Autism

Eye movement during movie of geometric patterns may be marker for autism risk in very young children
By Jeff Muise
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- A preference for moving geometric patterns as opposed to social images appears to be an easy-to-detect signature of toddlers who are at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a study published online Sept. 6 in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Karen Pierce, Ph.D., of the University of California in San Diego, and colleagues studied 110 toddlers, aged 12 to 43 months, including 37 with diagnosed ASD, 22 with delayed development, and 51 developing normally. Each toddler was shown a one-minute movie with moving geometric patterns on one side of the monitor and children in high action (e.g., dancing or doing yoga) on the other side. The researchers determined each toddler's visual preference by using eye-tracking technology to measure total fixation duration and number of saccades for each of the movie types.

The researchers found that the toddlers with ASD, even as young as 14 months, spent significantly more time looking at the moving geometric images than did the other two groups. When a toddler spent in excess of 69 percent of the movie running-time looking at the moving geometric patterns, the positive predictive value for ASD was 100 percent.

"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," the authors write.

One study author disclosed filing an invention disclosure form with the University of California, San Diego related to the study topic.

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