New research has revealed that autism can be detected in children at very early age though the symptoms are not the regular ones that we've been conditioned to look for like avoiding eye contact or constant smiling.

The study conducted by the New York State Institute of Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities suggests that babies who required neonatal intensive care and were later diagnozed with autism spectrum disorder were more likely to have abnormal muscle tone.

In addition, the researchers noticed differences in their visual processing compared to babies who developed normally after spending time in the neonatal intensive care.

Dr. Ira Cohen, chair of the psychology department at the institute says that the differences were largely subtle and not something parents could easily spot. Trained experts picked up some telltale signs after observing the babies.

Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that brings problems related to social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and restricted interests and behavior. If the latest study findings are proved by future research, it may lead to earlier identification of autism and prompt treatment.

The study, published in the latest issue of Pediatrics, reveals that the research team identified 28 babies who spent time at the neonatal intensive care units and were discharged with autism. These children were matched by gender and gestational age with 112 babies who were not autistic.

The behavior and development was tested across children aged one month, four months and periodically until they reached two years. The study found that children aged a month were more likely to show persistent neuro-behavioral abnormalities after hospital discharge.

It was observed that about 40 percent of the babies who were later diagnosed with autism showed abnormalities in the way they tracked objects visually. In addition, more than 50 percent of the babies later diagnosed with autism had abnormal arm tone in that they were either too floppy or too rigid.