Infant Neural Sensitivity to Dynamic Eye Gaze Is Associated with Later Emerging Autism

Elsabbagh, Mercure, Hudry, Chandler, Pasco, Charman, Pickles, Baron-Cohen, Bolton, Johnson & the BASIS team (2012)

 

There are currently no reliable predictors of autism in infancy, but characteristic behaviors emerge during the second year, enabling diagnosis after this age. Because indicators of brain functioning may be sensitive predictors, and atypical eye contact is characteristic of the syndrome and the Broader Autism Phenotype, we examined whether neural sensitivity to eye gaze during infancy is associated with later autism outcomes. We undertook a prospective longitudinal study of infants with and without familial risk for autism. At 6–10 months, we recorded infants’ event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to viewing faces with eye gaze directed toward versus away from the infant. Longitudinal analyses showed that characteristics of ERP components evoked in response to dynamic eye gaze shifts during infancy were associated with autism diagnosed at 36 months. ERP responses to eye gaze may help characterize developmental processes that lead to later emerging autism. Findings also elucidate the mechanisms driving the development of the social brain in infancy. PDF

 

 

Precursors to Social and Communication Difficulties in Infants At-Risk for Autism: Gaze Following and Attentional Engagement

Bedford, Elsabbagh, Gliga, Pickles, Senju, Charman, Johnson & the BASIS team (2012)

 

Whilst joint attention (JA) impairments in autism have been widely studied, little is known about the early development of gaze following, a precursor to establishing JA. We employed eye-tracking to record gaze following longitudinally in infants with and without a family history of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at 7 and 13 months. No group difference was found between at-risk and low-risk infants in gaze following behaviour at either age. However, despite following gaze successfully at 13 months, at-risk infants with later emerging socio-communication difficulties (both those with ASD and atypical development at 36 months of age) allocated less attention to the congruent object compared to typically developing at-risk siblings and low-risk controls. The findings suggest that the subtle emergence of difficulties in JA in infancy may be related to ASD and other atypical outcomes. PDF

 

 

Visual Orienting in the Early Broader Autism Phenotype: Disengagement and Facilitation

Elsabbagh, Volein, Holmboe, Tucker, Csibra, Baron-Cohen, Bolton, Charman, Baird & Johnson (2009)

 

In the current study we focused on a set of functions associated with visual attention, previously reported to be atypical in autism. We compared performance of a group of 9–10-month-old infant siblings of children with autism to a control group with no family history of autism on the ‘gap-overlap task’, which measures the cost of disengaging from a central stimulus in order to fixate a peripheral one. Two measures were derived on the basis of infants’ saccadic reaction times. The first is the Disengagement effect, which measures the efficiency of disengaging from a central stimulus to orient to a peripheral one. The second was a Facilitation effect, which arises when the infant is cued by a temporal gap preceding the onset of the peripheral stimulus, and would orient faster after its onset. Infant siblings of children with autism showed longer Disengagement latencies as well as less Facilitation relative to the control group. The findings are discussed in relation to how differences in visual attention may relate to characteristics observed in autism and the broader phenotype. PDF
 

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