Health Team

New research studies link between eye movement, autism

Posted May 28, 2013

— Using new research techniques, doctors at UNC Hospitals are coming closer to answering a key question about autism spectrum disorder – when does it begin?

For 3-year-old Grayson Kollins, autism symptoms didn't show up until he was about 18 months old. Most classic symptoms of autism develop between 1 and 2 years old.

"We thought everything was fine, until about 18 months," Grayson's mother, Katharine, said. "His language. He wasn't putting words together."

Six months later, Grayson had regressed and almost entirely stopped speaking, his mother said. Doctors at UNC diagnosed him with autism based on co-occurring behaviors.

"They begin to show sort of the social deficits and ritualistic, repetitive behaviors," Dr. Joseph Piven, a pediatric psychiatrist at UNC, said.

Grayson's mother said his interests narrowed.

"Sea creatures. Anything that lives in the ocean," she said.

"He's going to be a marine biologist," Scott Kollins, Grayson's father, said.

New research asks: When does autism begin? New research asks: When does autism begin?

Because of their son's diagnosis, the Kollins family worried that their daughter, 10-month-old Evelyn, may also develop autism. 

They decided to include her in a UNC research study that looked at eye movement research of the younger siblings of autism patients. 

Doctors believe as many as 1 in 5 younger siblings of autism patients can also wind up with the disorder. 

Evelyn Grayson and other children included in the study stared at faces or objects on a computer screen. As images move on the screen, a camera measures eye response. 

"We found in those kids who ended up having autism, they moved their gaze more slowly," Piven said. 

Researchers have also identified potential links to differences in neuro-circuits of the brain. They've found clues in babies as young as 7 months old.

In Grayson's case, specialized therapies have helped him improve his vocabulary and some behaviors. He still likes a structured environment. 

Thanks to the research study, the Kollins' say they feel less anxious about their daughter Evelyn's future. 

"If she does need services, we'll know far earlier than we knew with him," Katharine Kollins said.


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  • Wags Jun 3, 2013

    WRAL readers...or should I say...commenters, are the most doom and gloom, negative thinkers. It must be horrible to go through life so sad and angry. I feel bad for your family members.

  • LuvLivingInCary May 29, 2013

    all the gluten stuff is just false. never been a single scientific study to prove otherwise.

    this study is also a joke. every single person knows an autistic kid has poor eye why would they have a normal eye pattern....more not-invented-here tax dollars propping up an economy.

  • Pseudonym May 29, 2013

    18 months old. About the time parents start feeding kids processed food full of artificial colors, preservatives, glutens, and hormones.

  • jobs5 May 29, 2013

    With Autism Awareness growing across the country new studies like this will continue to appear over the next few years. The root cause of Autism may take a long time to find but each study could lead to bigger findings so they should be encouraged. In the meantime therapy like Applied Behavior Analysis and Early Intervention services have been proven to help children on the Autistic spectrum and should be more publicized to parents.

    J. Drewes
    Achieve Beyond Pediatric Therapy & Autism Services