In a recent MSNBC article they revealed a new study indicating that babies learn to speak, not just by listening to their parents and caregivers but by watching them. Our little angels are shown to be pretty good lip readers by researchers from Florida Atlatntic University. The group of infants, ranging from four to 12 months of age, watched videos of women speaking either in English, the native language used at home, or in Spanish, a language foreign to them. The researchers used eye tracking devices to study the eye movements and looked at developmental changes in attention to the eyes and mouth.
Results showed that at four months of age, babies focused almost solely on the women’s eyes. But by six to eight months of age, when the infants entered the so-called “babbling” stage of language acquisition and reached a milestone of cognitive development in which they can direct their attention to things they find interesting, their focus shifted to the women’s mouths. They continue to “lip read” until about 10 months of age, a point when they finally begin mastering the basic features of their native language. At this point, infants also begin to shift their attention back to the eyes. The data suggests that infants who continue to focus most of their attention on the mouth pst 1 months of age are probably not developing at age-appropriate perceptual and cognitive skills and may be at risk for disorders such as autism.
Although more research is needed, this finding could lead to earlier diagnosis and intervention for autism spectrum disorders, estimated, on average, to affect 1 in 110 children in the United States alone. Currently diagnosis with behavioral testing begins around 18 months of age. Earlier treatment can ensure the best possible developmental outcomes for children with autism.