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Diagnosing Autism: Eye Tracking Tests To Determine The Condition Will Not Get A 'Definite Diagnosis'

'Getting a diagnosis is a crucial first step to unlocking vital support services.'

03/10/2017 12:26 | Updated 04 October 2017

Looking at how a baby focuses their eyes during checkups in their first year of life is not a reliable way to get an autism diagnosis, experts have said. 

A spokesperson from the National Autistic Society (NAS) told HuffPost UK a definitive diagnosis at such a young age is “not possible”, following the discussion of research that suggests eye tracking technology could be used to help identify if a baby has autism spectrum disorder.

Writing in The Mirror, Dr Miriam Stoppard argued that if we want to diagnose and treat autism early, we need to find “new signs that may indicate a baby’s risk of developing the condition”.

She stated that at her granddaughter’s six-week checkup, the baby was checked on her ability to focus her eyes. 

Dr Stoppard claimed the doctor was also checking for something else, stating that research shows a lack of eye tracking in babies is a clue to whether they will develop autism.

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Dr Stoppard referred to Dr Karen Pierce, who is researching eye tracking technology with her team at the US autism centre, to discover if patterns can be used as an early sign of autism. 

They claim an eye-tracking test, called RightEye, can “aid in identifying children with autism spectrum disorder earlier than other tests, as well as determining the level of impairment”.

Another eye tracking study published in the ‘Archives of General Psychiatry’ in 2010, found infants as young as 14 months who went on to receive a final diagnosis of autism looked at movies of geometric shapes more often than movies of children dancing and doing yoga.

Discussing the research into eye tracking as a diagnosis for autism, the NAS spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “Getting a diagnosis is a crucial first step to unlocking vital support services, which can make a huge difference to autistic children and adults and their families.

“There have been several studies which have examined the level of attention or eye tracking patterns in infants and their possible links to autism.

“However, a definitive diagnosis of autism is only really possible when the child is more fully developed – at around two or three years old.

“A check at six weeks or six months may be useful but, at this very early stage, shouldn’t be taken as predicting which infants will go on to receive an autism diagnosis.” 

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