Babies tend to show signs of autism as early as six months into their lives, though scientists believe it is still too early to figure out if the findings of this new research could lead to earlier diagnosis and a possible cure to this health condition.

As against the current position of doctors diagnosing autism in the second year of life or later, the new study conducted at the Center for Autism Research at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, indicates that babies start showing subtle signs of the disease by the time they are six months old.

Earlier diagnosis could make a difference because doctors generally believe that any ailment diagnosed earlier leads to faster intervention and cure, says Robert T. Schulz, director fo the Center at Philadelphia, who was not directly involved in the research but was part of the larger team.

As part of the study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the research team analyzed 25 babies who had autistic siblings, which automatically put them at higher risk of developing the disorder. Additionally, there were 25 other babies from families that did not have a history of the disease.

The team allowed the babies to figure out how to play with a particular toy while their family sat nearby. It was found that babies at a higher risk of autism spent more time looking at the toy than the other babies. They also seemed to spend less time looking at their caregivers when not engaged by them.

Study co-author Rebecca Landa believes this behavior is associated to social initiation. The babies who were more prone to autism looked less often at things and for a lower duration. "This is something that parents should keep an eye on," says Landa, who works as director at the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders.

However, it was observed that the differences between the high-risk and the lower-risk groups were actually quite minor for the parents to observe. The study team suggested that the parents could possibly focus on ascertaining signs of autism among children after one year but pointed out that inability to make eye contact had to be seen as a sign of possible autism.