Study Shows Early Signs of Autism May be Observed Through the Eyes

A variety of health conditions can be detected through eye exams and ultra-widefield (UWF) retinal imaging. However, the results of a new study conducted by researchers at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta show that the earliest signs of autism may be detected by monitoring the eyes and watching for fixation  on certain objects.

UWF retinal imaging

Source: Clare Bloomfield via

As reported by Review of Optometry, researchers used equipment to track the movements of babies’ eyes as they watched videos of caregivers. These infants were followed from birth to age three and were divided into groups based on their likelihood of developing an autism spectrum disorder. Infants placed in the high-risk group were those with a sibling already diagnosed with autism, while the low-risk group included infants with no autistic siblings.


Researchers specifically took note of the amount of time each child “fixated on their caregiver’s eyes, mouth and body, as well as the non-human spaces in the images.” They found that by age three, most of the children placed in the high-risk group had received a clinical diagnosis. The eye-tracking data collected revealed that the infants later diagnosed with autism showed a “steady decline in how much they look at mom’s eyes,” lead author Warren Jones, PhD, said.


While eye care professionals that provide pediatric services are not expected to diagnose a child as autistic, Dr. Glen T. Steele, a professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry and chair of the AOA’s InfantSEE Committee, says the results of this study may prove to be very helpful by allowing practitioners to “notice these issues much earlier in life.”


As the potential to diagnose more and more systemic conditions and disorders through eye exams and monitoring one’s eye fixations grows, it reminds us of the importance of making sure patients understand that comprehensive eye exams, for themselves and their children, are a must. Comprehensive eye exams should include UWF retinal imaging, and Optos has the devices and technology your practice needs to provide patients with a more thorough exam. Visit our website today to learn more.