ASD Diagnosis Increased with Additive Risk Factors
By Chelsea E. Toledo, M.A. on September 23, 2014
Background: Some researchers hypothesize that autism stems from a single causal event that initiates a cascade of cognitive and developmental delays. In contrast, others hypothesize that autism is the cumulative result of several co-existent risk factors. Studies have shown that disparities in social attention in children as young as 10 months old can predict whether those children later receive an ASD diagnosis, especially if they have an older sibling with ASD. Separate research has evaluated non-social attention—for example, how quickly a child can shift focus from one stimulus to another—and found differences in children as young as 6 months old, depending on their level of risk for developing ASD. By utilizing social and non-social attention tasks, researchers hope to learn about autism’s initial causes.
What’s new: The July 2014 issue of Developmental Science included a study assessing both social and non-social attention in children at 13 months of age. Using data from previous studies evaluating the two factors separately, the researchers combined data collected from a total of 145 children who had either undergone a task to follow the gaze of a person shown on a screen or the task to shift focus from one stimulus shown on a screen to another. They found that disparities in social and non-social attention had cumulative effects in predicting an ASD diagnosis—that is, infants who followed the gaze of the person on the screen for short periods of time and who also took long periods of time to shift from one task to another had a higher chance of developing ASD than those who scored better on each task.
Why it’s important: This is the first study to formally test the relationship between multiple factors (i.e. social and non-social attention) as they relate to the development of ASD. This research paves the way for future studies to more conclusively determine whether ASD develops due to cumulative risk, as this study suggests, or from a single causal factor.
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