18-Month Predictors of Later Outcomes in Younger Siblings of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Baby Siblings Research Consortium Study
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OBJECTIVE: Younger siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at high risk (HR) for developing ASD as well as features of the broader autism phenotype. Although this complicates early diagnostic considerations in this cohort, it also provides an opportunity to examine patterns of behavior associated specifically with ASD compared to other developmental outcomes. METHOD: We applied Classification and Regression Trees (CART) analysis to individual items of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) in 719 HR siblings to identify behavioral features at 18 months that were predictive of diagnostic outcomes (ASD, atypical development, and typical development) at 36 months. RESULTS: Three distinct combinations of features at 18 months were predictive of ASD outcome: poor eye contact combined with lack of communicative gestures and giving; poor eye contact combined with a lack of imaginative play; and lack of giving and presence of repetitive behaviors, but with intact eye contact. These 18-month behavioral profiles predicted ASD versus non-ASD status at 36 months with 82.7% accuracy in an initial test sample and 77.3% accuracy in a validation sample. Clinical features at age 3 years among children with ASD varied as a function of their 18-month symptom profiles. Children with ASD who were misclassified at 18 months were higher functioning, and their autism symptoms increased between 18 and 36 months. CONCLUSION: These findings suggest the presence of different developmental pathways to ASD in HR siblings. Understanding such pathways will provide clearer targets for neural and genetic research and identification of developmentally specific treatments for ASD.
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