Gaze Behavior and Affect at 6 Months: Predicting Clinical Outcomes and Language Development in Typically Developing Infants and Infants at Risk for Autism

Dev Sci. 2009 Sep;12(5):798-814. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00833.x.


This paper presents follow-up longitudinal data to research that previously suggested the possibility of abnormal gaze behavior marked by decreased eye contact in a subgroup of 6-month-old infants at risk for autism (Merin, Young, Ozonoff & Rogers, 2007). Using eye-tracking data and behavioral data recorded during a live mother-infant interaction involving the still-face procedure, the predictive utility of gaze behavior and affective behaviors at 6 months was examined using diagnostic outcome data obtained longitudinally over the following 18 months. Results revealed that none of the infants previously identified as showing lower rates of eye contact had any signs of autism at outcome. In contrast, three infants who were diagnosed with autism demonstrated consistent gaze to the eye region and typical affective responses at 6 months. Individual differences in face scanning and affective responsivity during the live interaction were not related to any continuous measures of symptom frequency or symptom severity. In contrast, results of growth curve models for language development revealed significant relationships between face scanning and expressive language. Greater amounts of fixation to the mother's mouth during live interaction predicted higher levels of expressive language at outcome and greater rates of growth. These findings suggest that although gaze behavior at 6 months may not provide early markers for autism as initially conceived, gaze to the mouth in particular may be useful in predicting individual differences in language development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Affect / physiology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Language Development*
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Factors