Prospective examination of visual attention during play in infants at high-risk for autism spectrum disorder: A longitudinal study from 6 to 36 months of age
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Regulation of visual attention is essential to learning about one's environment. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit impairments in regulating their visual attention, but little is known about how such impairments develop over time. This prospective longitudinal study is the first to describe the development of components of visual attention, including engaging, sustaining, and disengaging attention, in infants at high-risk of developing ASD (each with an older sibling with ASD). Non-sibling controls and high-risk infant siblings were filmed at 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 24, and 36 months of age as they engaged in play with small, easily graspable toys. Duration of time spent looking at toy targets before moving the hand toward the target and the duration of time spent looking at the target after grasp were measured. At 36 months of age, an independent, gold standard diagnostic assessment for ASD was conducted for all participants. As predicted, infant siblings subsequently diagnosed with ASD were distinguished by prolonged latency to disengage ('sticky attention') by 12 months of age, and continued to show this characteristic at 15, 18, and 24 months of age. The results are discussed in relation to how the development of visual attention may impact later cognitive outcomes of children diagnosed with ASD.
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