HealthDay News —  Previous research suggests that blink inhibition is adaptive for minimizing the loss of incoming information in toddlers engaged by visual cues. However, toddlers with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may adapt to stimuli less quickly than typical toddlers, according to new findings published online first in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sarah Shultz, of the department of psychology at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, Conn., and colleagues measured the timing of blinks, blink inhibition and visual scanning in 93 toddlers (52 typical toddlers and 41 with ASD; mean age, 2.3 years), who watched a video with physical and affective cues. The values for both types of cues were compared between the two groups. Children with ASD are known to be less reactive to affective stimuli.

Both groups adjusted their blink inhibition at greater than expected levels, according to the researchers, but differed in the visual fixation and blink inhibition for prominent onscreen events. Toddlers with ASD inhibited their blinking later than did typical toddlers with respect to those onscreen events, indicating that typical toddlers anticipated the unfolding of events better than those with ASD.

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“These findings indicate that measures of blink inhibition can serve as temporally precise markers of perceived stimulus salience and are useful quantifiers of atypical processing of social affective signals in toddlers with ASD,” the researchers wrote.

Shultz S, Klin A, Jones W. PNAS. 2011;doi:10.1073/pnas.1109304108.