Unusual patterns of eye contact could help detect developing autism symptoms in babies just six months old, reveals a study.
La Trobe University psychologist Kristelle Hudry, a key researcher in the study, says the results of the study are linked with emerging autism.
Hudry and her UK colleagues studied six to 10-month-old babies who were at risk of developing autism because they had a sibling with the condition, the journal Current Biology reported.
They placed sensors on the babies' scalps to register their brain activity, while they viewed videos of faces that switched from looking at them to looking away, or vice versa, said a university statement.
"These results are important because early diagnosis can secure the best possible outcome for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), through early access to intervention," Hudry said.
While behaviours characteristic of autism emerge over the first few years of life, a firm diagnosis using existing methods can usually only be made after the age of two.
In reality, however, diagnosis often doesn't happen until much later, so most autism research has concentrated on children older than two years, which means we still know very little about the very earliest symptoms and signs, said Hudry.
Releasing the report in the UK, Mark Johnson, professor and chief investigator, University of London, said: "Our findings demonstrate for the first time that direct measures of brain functioning during the first year of life associate with a later diagnosis of autism - well before the emergence of behavioural symptoms."