Understanding the early predictors of autism is essential to promoting earlier identification, diagnosis and treatment. Although aberrant visual attention is one of the earliest identified predictors of autism and may play an integral role in the socio-communicative deficits inherent in the disorder, the emergence of atypical attention in infancy is poorly understood. The present proposal seeks to characterize the development of aberrant attention in autism by integrating cognitive and developmental neuroscience methods within a multiple-group, prospective longitudinal design. Methods will include computerized attention orienting and visual preference paradigms integrated with concurrently-measured heart-defined sustained attention. Integrating behavioral and heart-defined measures will critically inform whether behavioral eye movement reflects underlying cognitive processes of stimulus response. Patterns of behavioral and biomarkers will be compared across high risk infant siblings of children with autism (ASIBS), high risk infants with fragile X syndrome (FXS), and low risk controls;thus informing the etiological specificity of early attention indicators, which is essential to informing early diagnostic and treatment efforts. Specifically, we aim to: (1) evaluate group differences in attention orienting (disengagement, facilitation) and visual preference (social/nonsocial, novel/familiar) between 6, 9, and 12 months of age (9 and 12 months in FXS), (2) compare behavioral performance on computerized attention paradigms to heart-defined sustained attention, and (3) evaluate the relationship between autistic outcomes at 24 months and these early behavioral and biomarkers of attention. Multilevel modeling will be used to analyze the patterns of attention across high risk groups, as well as the relationship between early attention and autistic outcomes. This study is innovative in that it is the first to apply concurrently-measured behavioral and heart-defined attention to the prospective surveillance of infant attention in autism, as well as to compare behavioral and biomarkers of attention across high risk ASIBS and infants with FXS.

Public Health Relevance

Findings may promote earlier detection and treatment of autism by informing the timing, emergence and specificity of early attention predictors. In addition to benefitting the affected child, early detection also permits early intervention that reduces lifelong costs of services, as well as contributes to family well-being by permitting early access to community resources and genetic counseling.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F01-F (20))
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Sarampote, Christopher S
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University of South Carolina at Columbia
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Tonnsen, Bridgette L; Richards, John E; Roberts, Jane E (2018) Heart rate-defined sustained attention in infants at risk for autism. J Neurodev Disord 10:7
Guy, Maggie W; Richards, John E; Tonnsen, Bridgette L et al. (2018) Neural correlates of face processing in etiologically-distinct 12-month-old infants at high-risk of autism spectrum disorder. Dev Cogn Neurosci 29:61-71
Caravella, Kelly E; Roberts, Jane E (2017) Adaptive Skill Trajectories in Infants with Fragile X Syndrome Contrasted to Typical Controls and Infants at High Risk for Autism. Res Autism Spectr Disord 40:1-12
Lowell, E P; Tonnsen, B L; Bailey, D B et al. (2017) The effects of optimism, religion, and hope on mood and anxiety disorders in women with the FMR1 premutation. J Intellect Disabil Res 61:916-927
Belardi, Katie; Watson, Linda R; Faldowski, Richard A et al. (2017) A Retrospective Video Analysis of Canonical Babbling and Volubility in Infants with Fragile X Syndrome at 9-12 Months of Age. J Autism Dev Disord 47:1193-1206
Roberts, Jane E; Tonnsen, Bridgette L; McCary, Lindsay M et al. (2016) Brief Report: Autism Symptoms in Infants with Fragile X Syndrome. J Autism Dev Disord 46:3830-3837
Roberts, Jane E; Tonnsen, Bridgette L; McCary, Lindsay M et al. (2016) Trajectory and Predictors of Depression and Anxiety Disorders in Mothers With the FMR1 Premutation. Biol Psychiatry 79:850-857
Tonnsen, Bridgette L; Cornish, Kim M; Wheeler, Anne C et al. (2014) Maternal predictors of anxiety risk in young males with fragile X. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet 165B:399-409
Roberts, Jane E; Tonnsen, Bridgette L; Robinson, Marissa et al. (2014) Temperament factor structure in fragile X syndrome: the children's behavior questionnaire. Res Dev Disabil 35:563-71
Tonnsen, Bridgette L; Grefer, Marjorie L; Hatton, Deborah D et al. (2014) Developmental trajectories of attentional control in preschool males with fragile X syndrome. Res Dev Disabil 36C:62-71

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