Signs of autism can be seen in babies as young as two months old, a new study shows.
The results published in the journal Nature on Wednesday have been described as a “major leap forward” in the detection and treatment of autism, which affects one in 88 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A team of researchers led by the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta assessed 110 children from 2 months to 2 years of age.
Fifty-nine infants had a high risk of autism because they had brothers or sisters with the disability, and 51 were considered low risk.
The children watched videos of women acting like caregivers while the researchers tracked their eye movements with special technology. They reassessed the children at the age of three.
They found children diagnosed with autism at age three had shown diminished eye contact – one of the characteristics of autism -- with people when they were babies.
But the differences between babies who went on to develop autism and those who didn’t were not apparent at birth, which the researchers say “offers a promising opportunity for early intervention.”
"It tells us for the first time that it's possible to detect some signs of autism in the first months of life,” lead researcher Warren Jones told the BBC.
"These are the earliest signs of autism that we've ever observed."
But he warned the signs were only visible with sophisticated technology and worried parents should consult their pediatrician.
“We don’t want to create concern in parents that if a child isn’t looking them in the eyes all the time, it’s a problem,” he said. “It’s not. Children are looking all over the place.”