There’s a lot that can be learned about autism by focusing on the eye movements of those who have the developmental disorder, researchers say.

In a new study believed to be the largest of its kind, researchers observed children with and without autism watching movie scenes of kids in age-appropriate social situations.

What they found were striking differences in eye movement between typically developing children and those with autism. What’s more, the researchers noted significant variations depending on where a child with autism fell on the diagnostic spectrum.

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The study published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry looked at 135 children, including 109 with autism, all around age 10.

Researchers found that when watching the movies, those with autism were more likely to fixate on bodies and inanimate objects rather than a person’s eyes or face. Moreover, the degree to which a child focused on something other than a person’s face correlated with the level of their disability.

“These results help us tease apart some of the vast heterogeneity of the autism spectrum,” said Katherine Rice of the University of Maryland, who worked on the study.

Further research could help establish a better understanding of the development of autism, the researchers said.

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