Changes in infants' eye contact could provide the first sign of autism, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Nature. Researchers used eye tracking to study children from birth through age 3. They found that those eventually diagnosed with autism had shown changes in eye contact between 2 and 6 months of age.

Usually babies pay increasing attention to other people's eyes as they get older. However, the study found that babies later diagnosed with autism showed less eye contact as they developed. Researchers at the Marcus Autism Center compared a group of children with low autism risk to those with high risk.

In the center's press release, the researchers stressed that "what they observed would not be visible to the naked eye, but requires specialized technology and repeated measurements of a child's development over the course of months."

What does this mean?

Scientists routinely evaluate a study's merits partly based on the number of people studied. Larger studies are usually better. In this case, only 110 children were followed, but The New York Times said other experts are lauding the study's "careful and repeated measurements."

Other researchers will now need to do further research building on the Nature study.

What can parents do?

There are no specific recommendations for parents at this point, in response to these new findings. However, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus recommend regular screenings for children, beginning at birth to identify any eye health concerns as early as possible.

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