Preference for Geometric Patterns Early in Life as a Risk Factor for Autism

Published January 1, 2011 in Archives of General Psychiatry, Pierce et al.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego found that a preference for geometric patterns early in life may be a novel and easily detectable early signature of infants and toddlers at risk for autism. One hundred ten toddlers were presented with a one-minute movie depicting moving geometric patterns on one side of a video monitor and children in high actions, such as dancing or doing yoga, on the other. Using this preferential looking paradigm, researchers measured total fixation duration and the number of fast eye movements within each movie type was examined using eye-tracking technology. Overall, toddlers with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as young as 14 months spent significantly more time fixating on dynamic geometric images than other diagnostic groups. If a toddler spent more than 69% of his or her time fixating on geometric patterns, then the positive predictive value for accurately classifying that toddler as having an ASD was 100%. The preference for geometric patterns among children with ASDs can be used as an early risk factor for autism, which can aid in early identification efforts.

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