Subjects: Behavioral health
Autistic 2 year-olds respond differently to visual and auditory cues presented in cartoons, an observation that could help diagnose the condition earlier and perhaps encourage development of interventions that favorably alter the course of the disease.
To reach this conclusion, Ami Klin and colleagues at Yale showed specially prepared animations to 21 toddlers with autistic-spectrum disorders, 39 normally developing children and 16 that had developmental problems other than autism.
The cartoons were specially designed versions children’s games like ‘peek-a-boo’ and ‘pat-a-cake.’
In some versions, the images appeared upside-down. In others, they were not.
In addition, some versions featured audio cues like the sounds of clapping hands, while others were silent.
The Yale scientists showed that normally developing toddlers and those with non-autism related developmental problems showed a clear preference for the upright animations whether or not audio cues were present.
Toddlers with ASD did not demonstrate this preference when shown silent versions of the cartoons, but when audio cues were added, they did prefer the upright versions over the upside-down versions 66% of the time.
Apparently, sound helped grab their attention.
The write-up appears in Nature.
“In autism, genetic predispositions are exacerbated by atypical experience from a very early age, altering brain development,” Klin told the BBC.
“Attention to biological motion is a fundamental mechanism of social engagement. We need to understand how this process is derailed in autism, starting in the first weeks and months of life,” he added.
“This line of research holds promise for development of new therapies based on redirecting visual attention in children with (autism),” said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.