A new American study shows that there's a direct connection between vision abnormalities and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Researchers suggest that doctors in the future could use a specialized vision test to determine whether or not a child is likely to develop ASD.
Doctors involved in this study made children with and without autism focus on a screen with a moving target. While they were staring at the target, a group of scientists measured each child's rapid eye movements.
This test was designed so that it should take a few tries before the child's eyes adjust to the target. After two or three screenings, however, the patient should have no difficulty focusing on the target.
Interestingly, researchers found that children with ASD couldn't focus their eyes on the target after multiple attempts. Study authors believe this impaired eye function is directly related to a malformation in the child's cerebellum.
This research strengthens the claim that rapid eye movement tests can give doctors a good sense of a patient's brain structure. As the study authors note, "These findings build upon a growing field of research that show eye movement could serve as a window into a part of the brain that plays a role in a number of neurological…disorders."
ASD is classified as a developmental disorder that makes it difficult for patients to communicate with other people. A few warning signs that a child has ASD include difficulty speaking to others, excessive anxiety, avoiding eye contact, prolonged silence, and unexplained screaming.
The exact cause of autism is unknown, but most doctors believe it has something to do with genetics. The main treatment strategies for children with autism include cognitive behavioral therapy, speech therapy, and anger management.
In more serious cases, children can be prescribed various vitamins, antidepressants, or antipsychotics. A few of the more common drugs include risperidone and quetiapine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one out of every 150 children has some form of autism. That's a dramatic increase from the 1980s when only one in ever 2,000 children was diagnosed with the disorder. While most autistic patients are male, there have been a few reported cases of females with autism.
Edward G. Freedman and John J. Foxe were the lead authors on this study. Both of these professors teach in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Rochester, New York.
This study was published in the European Journal of Neuroscience under the title "Eye movements, sensorimotor adaptation and cerebellar-dependent learning in autism: toward potential biomarkers and subphenotypes."