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What the genetics of eye contact tell us about autism

Washington University School of Medicine

Scientists say they can show that how a child looks at the world is directly and fundamentally influenced by his or her genes — a finding that could reverberate in the autistic world, according to a study published in Nature Wednesday. Warren Jones, study author and director of research at the Marcus Autism Center, says:

"That's not a metaphorical statement: These results show that a child's genome influences how and when she moves her eyes, the direction in which she moves her eyes, and the content she spends time looking at. The implications of that are amazing: How a child looks at the world is how she learns about the world, and this study shows that how she looks at the world is fundamentally influenced by her genes. A child's worldview is shaped by her genes."

Why this is important: The study suggests common behavior in autism — particularly reduced attention to other people's eyes — is directly influenced by a child's genetic makeup.