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Autism Linked to Atypical Visual Attention in Infancy

By Chelsea E. Toledo, M.A. on April 18, 2013


Background: Along with its hallmark social and communicative impairments, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is commonly associated with a narrow focus of attention and interest. Studies of autistic adults have demonstrated that they experience increased activation in brain areas known for processing local versus global information—a pattern linked to superior performance on detail-oriented tasks.


What’s New: On January 29, 2013, the journal Biological Psychology featured a study of visual attention in infants, and its relation to ASD diagnoses later in life. The researchers videotaped 104 infants between six and 15 months of age as they watched animations either in the center of a screen or in its periphery. They found that the infants who were later diagnosed with ASD were more likely than their typically developing peers to continue focusing on the center of the screen after an animation moved to the periphery, and that they displayed inconsistent speed and flexibility in visual orientation.


Why it’s important: This study suggests that infants who develop autism have atypical development of visual attention beginning in the first year of life. However, infants who were later diagnosed with other developmental syndromes showed similar patterns in visual attention, underscoring possible overlaps in childhood disorders.

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