Review of an article in the New York Times Science section January 26, 1999:

Movement May Offer Early Cue to Autism
by Sandra Blakeslee


Excerpt of a summary by Pau Linden:

The articles describes work by Philip Teitelbaum, a psychologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. ...The findings are preliminary, but they indicate that it may be possible to diagnose autism in babies whose brains are still developing rapidly. Most autism is not diagnosed in children until they are at least 3 years old. By examining early videotapes of babies who were later found to be autistic, Teitelbaum discovered that these infants showed a specific cluster of movement abnormalities when rolling over, sitting up, crawling and walking ... Researchers say that because the human brain grows rapidly in the first year of life -- literally constructing circuits that will last a lifetime -- this is the best time to intervene. The goal of intervention would be to stimulate the baby's brain to circumvent the bad wiring or develop connections to compensate for a defect. By correcting movements through some form of physical therapy, it may be possible to used feedback to help correct abnormal brain development.

Paul Linden

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Additional Details of this article

by Robert Schleip (Feb.16,1999


"None of the autistic babies in the tapes learned to roll over like normal children did." According to Teitelbaum "normal babies use a corkscrew motion to go from back to stomach or vice versa. Starting at about 3 months, they first turn their pelvis to one side, followed by the trunk and finally the shoulders and head. By 6 months, the order is reversed: the head goes first and the rest of the body parts follow, corkscrew fashion." Yet several of the autistic infants never learn to roll over. Or they do, in a different pattern: "Starting from lying on their sides, they rolled to their stomachs or backs by raising heads and pelvises. Then they threw the upper legs forward and toppled over, moving all body segments together.


Unlike healthy babies who usually learn to sit up at 6 months, even while turning the torso or head, some of the infants whose autism was diagnosed later on toppled easily, falling to one side ''like a log'' and failing to break the falls with their hands". Normal infants typically start to crawl at about the same time they begin to sit. To crawl they hold their bodies symmetrically with arms vertical at shoulder width, palms on floor, fingers pointed forward. "Thighs are vertical and hip-width apart with knees on the ground and lower legs and feet resting on the floor pointing backward". Their weight is usually distributed equally on all fours. Autistic children tend to show an asymmetrical lack of support in the arms or legs. Teitelbaum: "One baby supported himself on his forearms rather than his hands. He raised his pelvis high in the air, bird-dog fashion, but could not move forward. Another baby crawled by scooting his left knee on the floor but used his right foot to push himself forward".


According to Teitelbaum every autistic child shows some degree of asymmetry in walking. "Many tended to shift their weight at the wrong moment" which mades their walking appear slightly stiff. Or they keep their arms in a more infantile position with arms extended forward. "Interestingly, many autistic children walk more slowly and with shorter steps, like Parkinson's disease patients whose motor skills are damaged"

The fulltext version of the New York Times article of January 26 can be downloaded for only $2.50 from Go to the '365 day archive' search function and type in 'Sandra Blakeslee' (she also wrote some other very interesting articles in the last years). The original research article from the scientist Philip Teitelbaum appeared in a recent issue of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences".