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Autism revealed by the blink of an eye

Posted December 15, 2011

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— How often children with autism blink is giving doctors new insight into how their minds work.

Two of Mike and Laura Ciavolino's 7-year-old triplets have autism.

Like most children with the disorder, both have trouble identifying emotions in others. They also are more likely to focus on objects than people.

"There's a difference in the way they focus compared to my son who doesn't have autism, and there's a difference in what they're focused on and what they're interested in," Laura Ciavolino said.

Researchers studied the rate at which children with autism blink to see exactly what their brains are focusing on.

"The less a child blinks, the more they are paying attention to what is happening," explained Dr. Warren Jones, with the Emory University Marcus Autism Center.

Researchers tracked the blink rate of children watching a video of other children playing.

During emotional scenes, the rate for children without autism slowed, while children with the condition blinked normally. That changed when children with autism spotted movement.

"They stopped blinking when they were looking at objects and when they were looking at objects in motion," Jones said.

Autism revealed by blinking eyes Autism revealed by blinking eyes

Researchers said this new insight into how the mind of someone with autism works could help improve therapies.

"What this research gives us is a new tool for essentially understanding what might be capturing the attention of children with autism," Jones said.

Knowing what interests children with autism could eventually help doctors identify and treat those with the disorder earlier.

"Children who receive early intervention for symptoms in autism are reported to have the greatest gains in function," said Dr. Alycia Halladay, director of environmental science research for the nonprofit Autism Speaks.

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  • anastasia Dec 21, 2011

    Since Monsanto controls the majority of seed production in the U.S., almost everything you eat is genetically modified. My husband has begun starting our own seeds for our garden, using heirloom seeds he purchases online. In other words, seeds that are not genetically modified. As for diagnosing autism early, delayed speech is only one of many symptoms, and on it's own, not that high on the list. I knew something was wrong with one of our grandsons when he was just a few months old. And as he got older, it became much more apparent. One big tip off is kids with autism don't *point* at things the way normal babies and toddlers do. And grandson continually focussed on *wheels*, spinning wheels on little cars and trucks and staring at them intently. So many more symptoms. :( I firmly believe it begins inuetero, and it's something in our environment, meaning food, plastics, maybe even the microwave.

  • freedom monkey Dec 21, 2011

    It's the vaccines. No "Natural born" Amish has ever had autism. There have been 2 cases from the Amish whose children had autism and both were adopted and had their vaccinations prior to adoption. Amish do not inject anything in their body. I know, it's not conclusive, but combine all other information, I choose vaccines to be the cause.

  • storchheim Dec 20, 2011

    dbop90, I wonder the same thing. Autism can be hard to diagnose but it does seem like there's more of it. Another thing that is easily diagnosed - meaning, it may be hard to pinpoint but there's no mistaking once pinpointed - is food allergies and asthsma (sp?). IOW, the child can't fake those and the parent can't overreact.

    I wonder about GMO food, especially corn that is so ubiquitously turned into high-fructose corn syrup (try finding soda made with sugar these days), and consumed indirectly by human consumption of dairy, meat and eggs from animals fed GMO corn. The worst thing is, it doesn't have to be labeled GMO.

    I don't have any proof and not going to research it today, but I don't knowingly eat the stuff either.

  • NC Reader Dec 19, 2011

    thewayitis -- Agree on the demands and expectations on young children. As far as labeling, I think it's fine as long as it's done nonjudgmentally and can produce helpful interventions. Labels are required to get services that help those children. It would be nice if people started looking at labels such as "autistic" or "dyslexic" as if they were as neutral as "left-handed" or "musically gifted" -- labels describing some special trait or ability of the person, an ability that might need some special teaching methods but is not a bad thing in and of itself.

  • thewayitis Dec 19, 2011

    Early intervention is tough -- sure, it helps some kids, but I think some kids end up prematurely labeled, when they don't really have a problem. My son was a late talker. I never worried about it, because my brother was a late talker, too, and luckily I had a doctor who didn't try to push me into treatment. I think many modern parents (I am a bit of an older mom with younger kids) are too quick to have their kids diagnosed. I understand why, and I totally get that I may be off base on this, but sometimes I wonder if a reasonable number of kids are also harmed by early labeling. I think it's a society issue, too, and that modern society has placed too many demands and expectations on young children.

    I am intrigued by the possible environmental impact as well. That could explain a lot of things. But I think our dear government is not going to be eager to jump into the consequences of poor food production, chemicals, and labeling.

  • dirkdiggler Dec 16, 2011

    dogsrule, i can sympathize with your friend. My son is 'high functioning autistic', and our insurance company pretty much said 'oh well, tough for your son'. He was nonverbal until almost 4 years old, but insurance wouldn't cover speech therapy. They'd only cover it if he needed the therapy due to an accident or something, that removed his ability to speak, but because he was born this way, they were not interested in helping.

    Other states, where I'm sure the taxes are way higher, actually do provide therapy for autistic kids. New Jersey comes to mind. They fully fund ABA therapy, which is intensive, 1 on 1 therapy 40 hours a week.

    I don't know what causes autism, but I am grateful for the assistance we received in my son's early years. Like HowManyOunces' kid, my son is now thriving in a 'normal' classroom-something that would not have been a possibility had we just tried to address the issue on our own, or worse, ignore it and figure he'd catch up eventually.

  • concerncitizen Dec 16, 2011

    @dbop90, I believe you are correct on all your points..... We do have more cases, the guidelines have changed. I saw or read sometime ago that doctors made decision to count more label more children as autistic. Some of the border line children were being left out or counted as something different. Now they do not do that.
    There is absolutely no doubt in my mine that our environment is being damaged and as a result we suffer...............

  • HowManyOunces Dec 16, 2011

    Some cases are now being diagnosed that wouldn't have been 20 years ago. My son is high functioning. Likely, he would have been labeled as slow and received little help 20 years ago. Now we know why he is the way he is and with therapy he thrives in a normal classroom. He performs above grade level. Before he started receiving therapy, he was a nonverbal 4 year old.

  • dbop90 Dec 16, 2011

    Is it just my distorted perception, or do cases of autism seem more and more common these days? Maybe the awareness is just higher these days? It just seemed like years ago, you hardly ever heard of so many cases of autism. I beginning to wonder if something in our current environment is causing this epidemic of autism cases.

  • dogsrule12cheek Dec 16, 2011

    I have a friend her son has autism, These parents do not get enough help from our insurance companys for the Therapy these babies need, I wish we would read a story about that. God Bless these familys