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Autism Risk Linked to Differences in Infant Play

By Chelsea E. Toledo, M.A. on November 29, 2012


Background: Research has shown that infants with an autistic sibling are at an increased risk for developing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Researchers also know that the behaviors which are atypical in children with ASD--including communication and social interaction--have roots in the behaviors displayed in infancy. Lesser understood is how infants' behaviors evolve as they undergo typical development versus the emergence of ASD.


What’s New: In a report published in the print and online editions of Autism, researchers evaluated how infants at high versus low risk for ASD explored objects. They observed 31 infants--15 defined as "high risk" because they had an autistic sibling--at 6 and 9 months of age as they played with rattles. The researchers concluded that, while none of the high-risk infants went on to receive an ASD diagnosis, they did display significant differences from the low-risk group in time they spent looking at and mouthing the rattles. However, the time high- and low-risk infants spent touching the rattles with their hands was largely the same.


Why it’s important: The way infants handle objects can affect their skills later on; for instance, making sounds while chewing a rattle can help infants practice consonant sounds. Because ASD is associated with atypical language and cognition, a better understanding of the precursor behaviors for those abilities in infants teaches scientists more about how the disorder manifests in toddlers and older children.

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