"Early differences in attending to and responding to [nonverbal] behaviors may be related to the development of core symptoms of autism," said Laura Silverman of the University of Rochester Medical Center's Department of Pediatrics in Rochester, N.Y.
Helt acknowledged several of the study's limitations, among them the small sample size of 123 participants. She also said that it's difficult to determine whether the failure of children with autism to mimic yawning is due to the fact that they tend to focus on people's mouths, whereas yawning contagion stems from a focus on the eyes.
But she said the study can still prove beneficial to future research.
"Contagious yawning might be able to be some kind of marker for some other clinically important neurological characteristic," she said.
"Looking at what the neurological underpinnings of contagious yawning are may be something that can be identified by brain scans at an early age," said Wilczynski. "This study gives us something to pursue that line of research more intensely."
That gives hope to mothers like Nicole Anthony, who hopes the study can help shed more light on the darkness that is autism.
"Maybe it will lead us to someplace else and some new understanding," she said.