Thursday, November 7, 2013

An Important Question with a Different Answer

I probably have coached over one thousand people since I started Ready Birth. There are a few questions which are repeated over and over. "How do I know when I am really in labor?" That answer hasn't changed. Probably never will.
The other question has increased in frequency over the last ten years or so in direct relation to how often the statistics are updated about how many kids have autism. Is it that we are getting better at diagnosing? Is it that it's now a current pediatric problem ( in the news )? Is it environmental, something we are eating or breathing? How will I know if my baby has autism? The answer has changed.
Not too long ago we couldn't make a definitive diagnosis until about three years of age. We often made a misdiagnosis. Then it was two years and even eighteen months. Exciting new studies have just been released that indicate tracking babies eye movements as early as two months are strong indicators for autism.
Researchers at our very own Marcus Autism Center and Emory University found that babies who showed the steepest decline in looking at peoples eyes  over time developed the most severe autism. Kudos to Warren Jones and Ami Klin who have found that kids whose eye fixation ( eye contact )falls off most rapidly are the kids who show the most symptoms of autism and social disabilities.
HOWEVER, parents and pediatricians cannot make the diagnosis based on eye contact. It takes proper technology and great expertise. All babies look all over the place and don't necessarily focus on YOU all the time. It is a matter of lower cortical development ( brain ) and intentionality.
Experts are measuring what babies see and what they don't see. If infants are focusing on objects as opposed to facial expressions, gestures and language, they  may be missing social cues that are necessary for "normal" development.
Jones and Klin are advocating the use of eye tracking and other social developmental norms to identify and begin early interventions. Some experts believe that intervening after the age of eighteen months is leaving the child with distinct and often permanent disabilities. These new findings might suggest a window of time when the development of autism could be slowed or even stopped.