Ami Klin, Ph.D.
Autism and Related Disorders
Typically, a child is first diagnosed with autism between ages three and five.
Ami Klin found a way to detect the disorder in infants.
That means therapy can start years earlier, exponentially increasing the chances for successful outcomes.
For years, Klin has studied how babies and toddlers make eye contact, looking for telltale markers of autism. Experts have long considered the failure to make eye contact a hallmark of autism. Klin quantified what before was subjective, by developing eye-tracking software that measures how much time babies spend looking at caregivers, versus focusing on other objects.
Klin discovered that between the ages of two months and six months, most babies begin to increase the time they spend gazing at other people. But babies who later will develop autism show a marked decline in eye contact during that same time.
Klin considers it “a bioethical imperative” to identify children with autism as early as possible, given the far better outcomes of patients who receive therapy earlier in their development. He hopes to bring his eye tracking system to market in a device simple enough to be used in pediatricians’ offices and day care centers. If doctors and caregivers can screen infants and identify those at high risk to develop autism, those children can be provided with therapy at a time when their brains are highly malleable and the chances are greatest for retraining the brain for normal function.
Klin serves as Chief of Autism and Related Disorders at the Marcus Autism Center, one of just three NIH Autism Centers for Excellence. The center works with more than 5,000 children per year – eight times more patients than any other center in the nation. He also is director of the Division of Autism and Related Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, and a member of the advisory board of the Autism Science Foundation.
Dr. Klin's lab uses eye-tracking and other technologies for the quantification of social visual and social vocal engagement in human infants and toddlers, and collaborates with Human Genetics at Emory and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center for the creation of analog studies in model animal systems. He and his team are also engaged in a translational effort to transform lab procedures into medical devices capable of obtaining low-cost behavioral assays for the detection of autism in large cohorts of babies through the support of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.They focus in three areas:
- Social Neuroscience: The emergence of social mind and social brain and disruptions thereof leading to autism spectrum disorders.
- Quantification of sociability and identification of autism in infancy: Objectified cognitive science procedures for early diagnosis and treatment of autism focused on measurements of highly conserved and early emerging mechanisms of sociability in human infants and in non-human primates.
- New models of health care delivery for children with autism: Deployment of cognitive science devices for universal screening for autism in high throughput pediatric centers offering primary care.
In a parallel effort, his lab is also examining the instantiation of genetic vulnerabilities in autism through studies attempting to bridge molecular genetics and social development in both human infants and non-human primates. A better mapping of genetically-driven pathways on foundational mechanisms of sociability in infancy carries the hope of novel treatments for attenuating or preventing this condition.
The back story
Dr. Klin's labs use eye-tracking and other technologies for the quantification of social visual and social vocal engagement in human infants and toddlers, and collaborate with Human Genetics at Emory and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center for the creation of analog studies in model animal systems. Dr. Klin is also engaged in a translational effort to transform lab procedures into medical devices capable of obtaining low-cost behavioral assays for the detection of autism in large cohorts of babies through the support of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.