Visual scanning preferences in low birth weight preterm infants

Abstract Introduction Few studies have used eye tracking as a screening tool for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in preterm infants. Objectives To evaluate fixation time on social and non-social figures and percentage of preterm babies who gazed at the images. Methods This was a cross-sectional study of 31 preterm infants born weighing ≤ 2,000 g in which eye gaze was evaluated at 6 months of corrected age. Six boards with social and non-social figures were projected on a computer screen, successively, evaluating time and percentage of preterm babies who gazed at each board. The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) was answered at 18 months of corrected age. Results Preterm infants showed longer visual fixation time on social figures compared with non-social images, regardless of the position of the social figure on the board. Similar percentages of preterm infants gazed either at social or non-social figures, at social figures with a direct or an indirect look, and at the eyes or mouth of the social figures. No preterm infant screened positive on the M-CHAT. Conclusion At 6 months of corrected age, preterm infants show the ability to gaze in an eye-tracking test, with preference for social figures, suggesting that this tool could be useful as another screening instrument for ASD.