A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter 2024 | Number 1, Volume 38

Atypical reflex may help to identify nonverbal kids with ASD

Measuring the way in which children’s eyes move when they turn their heads may help to identify those with autism spectrum disorders, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco.

Chenyu Wang and colleagues initially studied mice with a variant of a gene called SCN2A that is associated with severe autism. The researchers tested the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) of the mice, a reflex that keeps images stabilized on the retina when the head moves by producing eye movements opposite to the motion of the head. The researchers discovered that mice with the gene variant had an unusually sensitive VOR.

Next, the researchers asked five children with SCN2A-linked autism and eleven of their neurotypical siblings to participate in an experiment in which the children were rotated to the left and right in a chair while their eye movements were tracked. The researchers found that the children with autism, but not their neurotypical siblings, exhibited a hypersensitive VOR. This hypersensitivity, they say, could help to explain the very strong reactions to sensory stimuli exhibited by many children with ASD.

The researchers say that if their findings are confirmed, measuring VOR could help clinicians diagnose children with ASD earlier. Study coauthor Kevin Bender comments, “We can measure it in kids with autism who are nonverbal or can’t or don’t want to follow instructions. This could be a game-changer in both the clinic and the lab.”


Citations

“Impaired cerebellar plasticity hypersensitizes sensory reflexes in SCN2A-associated ASD,” Chenyu Wang, Kimberly D. Derderian, Elizabeth Hamada, Xujia Zhou, Andrew D. Nelson, Henry Kyoung, Nadav Ahituv, Guy Bouvier, and Kevin J. Bender, Neuron, February 26, 2024 (online). Address: Kevin Bender, [email protected].

—and—

“A simple eye reflex test may be able to assess autism in children,” Medical Xpress, February 28, 2024.