The increasing occurrence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) creates an imperative need for clinicians to identify as early as possible ASD related deficits in order for these children to receive access to early intervention services and possibly a greater chance to improve quality of life. Early signs of ASD related deficits may first become noticeable within the development of the motor system, since it may affect object exploration skills, learning and subsequently cognitive, language and social development. Currently, the average age of ASD diagnosis is around three years even though a reliable and stable diagnosis can be made at around 24 months. However, signs of atypical behavior have been documented retrospectively even earlier by parents of children with autism. It has been suggested that earty postural development as well as gaze behavior could be a useful marker of developmental disruption in children with ASD. Examination of the development of postural control variability in the first year of life could be a valuable tool in discriminating infants with typical development from infants with ASD, similar to what it has been shown in preterm infants and infants at risk for cerebral palsy. In addition, many children with autism engage in a variety of repetitive behaviors and often prefer to attend to visual repetitions. Recently, a very simple method, the preference looking paradigm, has been utilized successfully in toddlers as young as 14 months for identification of ASD but not in younger infants. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to investigate the development of postural control variability and gaze behavior in typically developing infants and infant at nsk for ASD during the first year of life and how these behaviors correlate with measures of social and communication development and with later presence of diagnosis for ASD. Identifying early motor and preferential looking differences in typically developing infants and infants at risk for ASD may allow for a) a greater understanding of the underlying motor and visual processes, b) the development of an earty detection paradigm for autism, and c) the advancement of foundational knowledge from which treatments for autism may be developed.

Public Health Relevance

ASD is a range of complex neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.The course of motor development in conjunction with the looking behavior of infants at risk for ASD may be an extremely valuable tool in the early diagnosis of ASD. Our long-term goal is to develop and earty detection paradigm for ASD and to promote the the modification of current theraoutic protocols for children with ASD.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Exploratory Grants (P20)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZGM1-TWD-C (C1))
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University of Nebraska Omaha
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