Home > Science > 5|25: Celebrating Five Years of Autism Science Day 21: Toddlers with autism are drawn to movements that are highly synchronized

5|25: Celebrating Five Years of Autism Science Day 21: Toddlers with autism are drawn to movements that are highly synchronized

In honor of the anniversary of Autism Speaks’ founding on Feb 25, for the next 25 days we will be sharing stories about the many significant scientific advances that have occurred during our first five years together. Our 21st item, Toddlers with autism are drawn to movements that are highly synchronized, was originally reported in our Science In the News in 2009.

In its March 29, 2009 issue, the prestigious journal Nature reported on an autism study that focuses on the toddler response to biological motion. Researchers from Yale University found that young toddlers with autism are not sensitive to biological motion, or all movements made by people including facial expressions, speech and gestures. The study, funded in part by Autism Speaks, helps explain why young toddlers with autism often do not make eye contact or pay attention to what others are doing. Instead, toddlers with autism are drawn to movements that are highly synchronized, which is not characteristic of most human movements.

“Since infants as young as two days old are sensitive and pay attention to biological motion,” said Dr. Geri Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, “these findings could potentially be useful in detecting infants at risk for autism very early in life. It is important to use therapeutic strategies for children with autism that help draw their attention to people, including their facial expressions, and gestures.”

By providing very early intervention, doctors and therapists may be able to influence the trajectory of brain and behavioral development in children with autism so that a more typical development occurs and symptoms of autism are reduced.

Read an NIH press release on the study.

Did you know?: Another Autism Speaks-funded study published in 2009 discovered unusual sensory-motor features of children with autism. Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine examined motor patterns in children with autism. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, suggest that children with autism appear to learn new motor actions differently than do typically developing children. To learn new patterns of movement, children with autism relied much more on their own internal sense of body position (proprioception) rather than visual information coming from the external world. Furthermore, researchers found that the greater the reliance on proprioception, the greater the child’s impairment in social skills, motor skills and imitation.

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