Behavioral, cognitive, and adaptive development in infants with autism spectrum disorder in the first 2 years of life
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BACKGROUND: To delineate the early progression of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms, this study investigated developmental characteristics of infants at high familial risk for ASD (HR), and infants at low risk (LR). METHODS: Participants included 210 HR and 98 LR infants across 4 sites with comparable behavioral data at age 6, 12, and 24 months assessed in the domains of cognitive development (Mullen Scales of Early Learning), adaptive skills (Vineland Adaptive Behavioral Scales), and early behavioral features of ASD (Autism Observation Scale for Infants). Participants evaluated according to the DSM-IV-TR criteria at 24 months and categorized as ASD-positive or ASD-negative were further stratified by empirically derived cutoff scores using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule yielding four groups: HR-ASD-High, HR-ASD-Moderate (HR-ASD-Mod), HR-ASD-Negative (HR-Neg), and LR-ASD-Negative (LR-Neg). RESULTS: The four groups demonstrated different developmental trajectories that became increasingly distinct from 6 to 24 months across all domains. At 6 months, the HR-ASD-High group demonstrated less advanced Gross Motor and Visual Reception skills compared with the LR-Neg group. By 12 months, the HR-ASD-High group demonstrated increased behavioral features of ASD and decreased cognitive and adaptive functioning compared to the HR-Neg and LR-Neg groups. By 24 months, both the HR-ASD-High and HR-ASD-Moderate groups demonstrated differences from the LR- and HR-Neg groups in all domains. CONCLUSIONS: These findings reveal atypical sensorimotor development at 6 months of age which is associated with ASD at 24 months in the most severely affected group of infants. Sensorimotor differences precede the unfolding of cognitive and adaptive deficits and behavioral features of autism across the 6- to 24-month interval. The less severely affected group demonstrates later symptom onset, in the second year of life, with initial differences in the social-communication domain.
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