Social-Emotional Development of Infants at Risk for ASD
Core Function: Research and Evaluation
Younger siblings of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) demonstrate substantial heterogeneity in their social-communicative outcomes, ranging in severity from autism, to language delays, to no detectable disorders. A central goal of this project is to identify early developmental patterns that are predictive of the diverse outcomes exhibited by siblings of children with ASD. Comparisons are being made between groups of children who are younger siblings of children with ASD and groups of typically-developing younger siblings in families where there is no history of ASD. This study is being carried out in collaboration with Vanderbilt University and the University of Miami.
Recently published prospective studies of younger siblings of children with ASD have revealed substantially higher rates of ASD among siblings, ranging up to 29%. The focus of the current study is on two developmental capacities that emerge within the first year of life and are putative core deficits in autistic disorders -- attention coordination competencies (ACC) and positive affective competencies (PAC). Researchers are examining the development of these skills in the first year of life and comparing the growth of these skills during the second year of life in siblings at both high and low risk for autism. Understanding the early development of these competencies will not only provide information about the extent to which individual differences in one or both areas are predictive of later autism symptoms, but may also have important implications for designing targeted interventions or skill enhancement programs for these children and their parents.
The study is also examining how ACCs and PACs are developed into increasingly complex forms of affectively positive joint attention between 12 and 18 months; the extent to which these early competencies predict individual differences in social and communicative outcomes at 24 and 36 months; and how much these outcomes are mediated by the development of the positive joint attention competencies between 12 and 18 months. Families who participate in the study complete questionnaires about their child's development and make several visits to the center for assessment of the child. Children receive assessments of their social and communication behavior at each visit, and receive diagnostic evaluations at 24 months and 36 months of age.