Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Eye Movements Detect Autism

Researchers are beginning to look at the way that babies communicate with their eyes in order to understand the development of certain disabilities such as autism. Dr. Noah Sasson, an Assistant Professor and his colleagues at the University of Texas at Dallas in the Center for Children and Families, are currently tracking and measuring the eye movements of infants. Eye tracking technology has been used in previous research to investigate how children and adults perceive social and non-social information.

“By tracking eye movements, we can infer information about an infant based on what he or she views and for how long,” said Sasson. “Although this information alone is not diagnostic, certain patterns of eye movements may signify an abnormality that can reflect potential developmental difficulties.”

Researchers collect the data by having infants sit on their parent’s lap and face a computer monitor. An array of images is projected on the monitor and a standalone unit called the Tobii eye tracker is used to instantly measure eye movements.

Included in the array are social images, such as people and faces and objects that are often of high interest to children with autism. These can include trains, cars, and computers as well as objects that may be less appealing to children with autism.

“We know from experience that early intervention can lessen the effects of autism traits in both childhood and adulthood”, said Sasson. “The goal of our research is to detect a problem as soon as possible so that parents can look into early intervention programs.”