A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

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

Fall, 2021 | Number 4, Volume 35

Visual behavior when inspecting objects may help predict ASD in infants

Infants who exhibit unusual behaviors when visually inspecting objects may be at elevated risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a new study suggests. 

Meghan Miller and colleagues evaluated 89 infants at high risk for ASD because they had a sibling with an ASD diagnosis and 58 low-risk infants whose siblings did not have ASD. The researchers found that “infants who developed autism exhibited more frequent unusual visual inspection of objects—a particular type of repetitive behavior involving prolonged visual inspection, examination of the object from odd angles or from peripheral vision, or squinting or blinking repeatedly while examining the object—by 9 months of age compared to those who did not develop autism.” In addition, they say, unusual visual inspection at 9 months predicted social behavior at 12 months, while the opposite (social behavior at 9 months predicting behavior during visual inspection at 12 months) was not true. 

Miller comments, “The findings support major theories of autism which hypothesize that infants’ over-focus on objects might be at the expense of their interest in people. Ultimately, this study suggests that unusual visual inspection of objects may precede development of the social symptoms characteristic of ASD.” 

The researchers conclude, “Close monitoring of unusual visual inspection of objects by 9 months of age may be an important aspect of early detection and may be valuable to integrate into early screening tools.”


“Repetitive behavior with objects in infants developing autism predicts diagnosis and later social behavior as early as 9 months,” Meghan Miller, Shuai Sun, Ana-Maria Iosif, Gregory S. Young, Ashleigh Belding, Andrew Tubbs, and Sally Ozonoff, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, August 2021, 665-675. Address: Meghan Miller, UC Davis MIND Institute, 2825 50th Street, Sacramento, CA 95817, [email protected]


“Unusual visual examination of objects may indicate later autism diagnosis in infants,” Medical Xpress, September 24, 2021