Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Baby’s Gaze May Signal Autism, a Study Finds

Freddie Reichel
Core Biology Honors
Block D Odd
Belluck, Pam. "Baby’s Gaze May Signal Autism, a Study Finds." Baby’s Gaze May Signal Autism a Study Finds., 6 Nov. 2013. Web. 07 Nov. 2013. <>.
            In a study just published in Nature, Warren R. Jones and Ami Klin of Emory University and the Marcus Autism Center used eye-tracking technology to show that children who were found to have autism at age three looked less in other people’s eyes when they were babies compared to normal children who did not develop autism.   Interestingly, despite what researchers hypothesized, the difference was not apparent at birth.  This suggests that the period in which autism develops could be able to slowed down or halted. Babies who gradually stopped looking into people’s eyes over a long period of time developed the most severe cases of autism.  Children who cannot maintain eye contact are the ones who display the most symptoms and are the most socially disabled.  This observation may lead to the early recognition of autism.   Autism treatment therapy has not yet been established for young infants and the number of cases of autism has severely increased in as short a period as six years.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated the number has increased from one child in 150 in 2002 to one in 88 in 2008.  Researchers speculate a growing number of older fathers could possibly be a factor. Dr. Jones and Dr. Klin, the directors of the autism center, studied two groups of babies.  One group was babies with a 20 times greater risk, having siblings with autism.  The other group was at low risk, with no direct relatives of autism.  The researchers tested 110 children, with a range of ages between two months and two years old.  The babies were instructed to watch a video of a friendly woman engaging in motherly behaviors.  Eye-tracking technology determined when the babies made eye contact with the women’s eyes, mouth and body and other objects in the background.  At age three, the children were evaluated for autism and eleven of the thirty-six children were diagnosed as autistic.  The researches determined that the children who developed autism looked more at the mouth of the woman past the age when a typical child lost interest.  In addition, the children who developed autism looked more at the objects in the background after the first year then children who did not develop autism.
            This article presents groundbreaking research.  Researchers and scientists still do not know the cause of autism, and the research conducted by Dr. Jones and Dr. Klin helps present a way to diagnose children at an age younger than three and may potentially lead to the development of ways to slow or reverse the development of autism.  Engaging babies in social environments can delay autism.  A major symptom is lack of eye contact, as demonstrated in the experiment, and the research may correlate to a better experiment to find autism in infants using eye-tracking technology.  I chose this article because over the past summer, I worked at The McCarton School, a school for children with autism.  The school was filled with hundreds of children, all on the autism spectrum.  Autism is a disorder that needs to be better understood, and the research conducted at the Marcus Autism Center is an original insight that may help lead to treatment.
            This article was written clearly and sequentially.  I liked the many quotes from a variety of people, ranging from doctors to researchers, who all gave a unique perspective.  Autism is complex and the author described the symptoms very lucidly.  In addition, I liked the graphs because they helped me visualize all the people affected by autism.  However, I feel the author could have provided more background on what is known about the disorder Autism and what other studies have revealed.  Some of the quotes included vocabulary that was too medical for the average person.  This research is an exciting find that is a significant advance in our understanding of autism, and will hopefully lead to more research and potential treatments. 


  1. Freddie, great job. I found this review very insightful and interesting. In the beginning of your summary, you did a very nice job with defining key terms and people which was helpful to the reader to get a sense of what was going on. In addition, you had a very nice flow to your writing, and every fact that you presented was written clearly and in an orderly fashion. One could tell that your relevance paragraph was written with care, and it shows. I liked how you brought up your personal experience working at the school for autistic children. I learned that one could tell how severely autistic, or if the child even is autistic, the child is by looking into their eyes. For instance, the autism would be more severe if the child could not look at you directly in the eye. I also learned that the cause of autism is sometimes based off of the age of the male which is very interesting. Your current event had a great tone to it and I do not have much to criticize. However, I would spell out my numbers when writing a formal piece. Other than that, your current event was great!

  2. Good job Freddie! This was a very well written and informative report on a very important topic. You were very helpful in describing terms that may not have been known to everyone who was reading this. The report was very well organized and you displayed many great writing skills. It is very nice how you worked at that school and thats great that a personal experience inspired you to write this because it really adds to the report on a personal level. I think this was beautifully written, however there were one or two sentences that sounded a bit awkward to me. I hop one day they find a cure to a very serious disease and this current event report was really good!

  3. Freddie did a great job summarizing the tests that they did on the infants for diagnosing autism. She also brought up many statistics, which gave the reader an understanding of why the topic is so relevant. She also emphasized that the eye-tracking technology can help halter autism in infants and children, which made it clear why the research behind the article was so important. One thing that I didn’t know before reading her review was that the rate of autism among infants has increased between 2002 and 2008. One thing I found interesting was also the fact that it’s eye contact that the autistic children have a problem with. It made me wonder if autism can be partly prevented if mother’s socialize/ make more eye contact with their children while they are young or if the child’s environment has larger effects on it than we think. Overall, Freddie provided a lot of good information about the research, although she could have brought up earlier research about the topic in order to explain improvements or news.