Promising breakthrough in autism early detection

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ATLANTA - New research released Wednesday shows that a key to diagnosing autism in the first few months of life may lie in the eyes.

Channel 2's Wendy Corona spoke to the lead researcher about how this discovery has been years in the making and what needs to happen next.

"He was about 2 1/2 when he was officially diagnosed and it was at one that I realized that something wasn't right," said mother Shelby Shannon.

Researchers at Marcus Autism Center along with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University say years of research shows autism detection is possible in children as young as two months of age.

"We measure the way babies look at the world; what babies see and don't see and we do this using eye tracking technology. We  measure the movements of a baby's eyes while the baby watches scenes of social interaction," said Dr. Warren Jones, director of research at Marcus Autism Center.

The data recorded eye-tracking of two groups of infants -- one high-risk with autism already in the family line; the other low risk and no family tie to autism, and concluded eye tracking declined between 2 and 24 months of age.

"The signs that we observed in this study are not things that parents or professionals would be able to see just by looking at a baby," said Jones. "His required sophisticated technology and measurements over time."

Autism is not a rare disorder. One in 88 have the developmental issue. Doctors stress that this early detection is still many tests and years away from making an immediate difference in the lives of children.

"That's all we want is research to understand what's going on. What age can we really detect?" Shannon said.

 The next step is to enroll families to participate in more clinical tests.

Send an email to marcusresearch@choa.org if you're interested in participating in the study at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.


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