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A Closer Look at Autism

THURSDAY, July 10 (HealthDayNews) -- Early problems with simple face-to-face interaction may be responsible for the difficulties autistic children have in pointing and showing objects to other people, says new British research.

The results of the two-year study from the University of Durham could provide better understanding of the early language and communication problems found in children with autism.

"We have known for a long time that children with autism have special difficulties with pointing and showing objects to other people. Until recently, however, many researchers believed that this problem was due to the child's lack of awareness that people's thoughts and reactions were directed towards objects and events in the world around them," lead author Dr. Susan Leekam says in a statement.

"Our new research suggests a different interpretation -- that the failure to point and show things to others may emerge from much simpler beginnings of face-to-face interaction. These findings indicate that the problems may start even earlier in development than previously recognized," Leekam says.

The study included 20 pre-school children with autism and 20 developmentally delayed children in a comparison group. The two groups were matched for mental age.

The use of voice and touch by adults playing with the children was measured by a computer-based digital video analysis system. The system also measured the use of pointing and showing by the children.

Using this method, the researchers were able to examine in detail the effectiveness of touch or gaining a child's eye gaze and other methods of attention-seeking used by the adults.

The researchers found an autistic child's difficulty in responding to face-to-face interaction was strongly related to the problem of pointing and showing. Autistic children who did no pointing or showing objects to the adults were those most impaired in face-to-face interaction.

"This finding has implications for early intervention. Many parents are aware of difficulties long before a diagnosis of autism is made. By gaining greater understanding of these very early problems we hope that ways can be found to target them before other difficulties emerge," Leekam says.

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