Pupil Tracking Could Lead to Early Intervention for Infants With Autism
Before babies can speak, they rely on communication through physical signals to express their needs and desires. Researchers at the University of Texas, Dallas (UTD) believe that there could be a way to detect the occurrence of developmental disorders, like autism, in infants by using clues expressed through babies’ eye movements. Dr. Noah Sasson, an assistant professor at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UTD, is conducting a study that uses pupil tracking technology to detect signs of autism in infants. He believes that certain patterns of eye movement could be linked to abnormalities that may indicate a likelihood for developmental disorders. In particular, Dr. Sasson is interested in what infants look at and for how long.
For his study, infants sit on their parent’s lap facing a computer screen that is affixed with an eye tracking device. A variety of images are projected on the screen, and the eye tracker detects and reports where the baby’s gaze falls on the screen and the duration of the gaze on each location. The images are categorized as high interest, low interest, and social objects. High interest objects are items such as trains, cars, or computers that have been shown to be appealing to children with autism, while low interest items are pictures of things like clothes and furniture. Social images are pictures of people and faces.
Though more research is needed, Dr. Sasson believes that children who are likely to develop autism will focus on the “high interest” objects more frequently and for a longer duration than other images. If tracking eye movements proves to be a dependable method for detecting potential for autism in infants, it would give parents the opportunity to start early intervention programs. Studies have shown that early intervention can decrease the effects of autism traits in children and adults.
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