The Infant Sibling Network (IBIS) is an organization that conducts early brain research. They primarily focus on children born into families with an older sibling who has ASD in order to find potential early signs of ASD manifesting in a younger sibling.
In 2018 they conducted an eye tracking study to measure how young children shifted their gaze towards objects placed in front of them. They studied how and when their gaze was shifted, and the duration between the object’s appearance and the first sign of movement of the eye. To do this, they used MRI to assess the brain structure and function, and clinical assessments involving infants.
They discovered that “7-month-olds who went on to develop ASD were slower to shift their attention from one object to another when compared to 7‐month‐olds who did not develop ASD. Slow eye gaze shifts are believed to make it more difficult for the infant to learn about their environment, placing them at risk for developmental delays.”
They have related that slower shifting of the gaze correlates with the maturity of the “corpus callosum.” The corpus callosum connects the right and left halves of the brain through fibers, transferring the synapses between both sides of the brain.
“The sharing of information between both halves of the brain helps with shifting of eye gaze and attention. Using MRI, we were able to show that the corpus callosum was immature in 7-month-old infants who later were diagnosed with ASD. This finding is consistent with other MRI studies in older youth with ASD that show abnormalities in the brain’s “wiring.” However, prior to our IBIS studies it was not known to occur at such a young age.”
“This research is important because it pinpoints a specific brain circuit that is developing atypically very early in life, prior to the child showing outward signs and symptoms of ASD. This early marker for ASD within the biology of the child (a “biomarker”) could be very helpful for earlier detection of ASD when combined with other biomarkers. All early detection markers are important for guiding the development of early treatments. Thus, our team is hopeful that these findings may lead to earlier diagnoses, intervention, and subsequent improved outcomes for individuals with ASD.”
Early intervention is critical for children with ASD. It is our hope that studies conducted by organizations like the Infant Sibling Network will lead to earlier diagnoses and early treatment!
For the full article posted on the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital Center for Autism Research blog age, click here.