New technology helps doctors diagnose autism

December 4, 2009 9:46:00 AM PST
Cutting-edge technology is helping doctors diagnose autism in babies as young as 3 months old. The key is how infants read their mothers' faces.

Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital use sophisticated eye-tracking technology, along with an advanced monitor, to study electrical currents in the brains of babies. Researchers show the babies images of different faces mixed in with other distracting shapes and colors.

One thing researchers look for is how a baby reacts to a picture of its mother.

"When he looks at mom, he should be saying, 'Okay, that's-- that's mom, and then, that's not mom.' The kids at high risk for autism are showing a bigger brain response to a stranger. Whereas Blake will show a bigger brain response to mom," said Charles Nelson, Phd., Boston Children's Hospital.

Doctors say it's very important for babies to learn to recognize faces and read emotions. That development depends on constant visual stimulation during infancy.