Eyes, Louder than Words?

Source: Flinders University

When William Shakespeare said, ‘your eyes are the windows to your soul’, he had no idea of knowing that the eyes would not just give an insight into our souls but also our bodies. Over the years, the eyes have provided doctors with valuable diagnostic information regarding multiple diseases ranging from diabetes to certain cancers.

A recent study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders states that eye scans can lead to an early diagnosis of autism in children. Using a hand-held device the team of researchers conducted non-invasive eye scans, called electroretinograms (ERGs) to measure the electrical activity generated by neural and non-neuronal cells in the retina in response to a light stimulus. 

According to Dr. Paul Constable, a senior lecturer at the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Flinders University, the ERG is a test of retinal function and since the retina is connected to the brain via the optic nerve, it makes it the ideal focal point to learn about neurodegenerative or developmental disorders. 

Dr. Paul Constable showcasing an eye scan device that could potentially detect autism. Credit: Flinders University

The scans were conducted on a total of 180 subjects, with and without autism, ranging from 5 to 21 years of age. There was a notable difference in the ERGs of children on the autism spectrum thus, showing that there’s a difference in their brain development. 

What is Autism?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), groups autism under the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which includes a range of neurodevelopmental disorders. Autism is usually characterized by delayed speech, impaired social interaction, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These deficits tend to appear in early childhood and can lead to significant functional impairment. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that worldwide 1 in 160 children have ASD. 

Doctor Constable’s research team now aims to use the scans to detect other conditions in children including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Detection inevitably changes family dynamics and goals, and creates consideration about the time required to help the child

Dr. Paul Constable

Dr. Paul hopes that this autism ‘biomarker’ can be used to look at young children, even infants, in an effort to reach an early diagnosis. Early diagnosis means early intervention which helps families to come in terms with the diagnosis and make informed decisions. 


Constable, P.A., Ritvo, E.R., Ritvo, A.R. et al. Light-Adapted Electroretinogram Differences in Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord (2020). 

Mayada et al. Global prevalence of autism and other pervasive developmental disorders. Autism Res. 2012 Jun; 5(3): 160–179.


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