Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Infants Autism Predictors Caregiver reciprocity Baby Siblings

Major Advisor

Dr. Melissa A. Bray

Associate Advisor

Dr. Anjana Bhat

Associate Advisor

Dr. Thomas Kehle

Field of Study

Educational Psychology


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Social Communication and Infants At-Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Candace Marks Anderson, PhD

University of Connecticut, 2014

As the shift in the epidemiology of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) moves from infancy, to in utero development, to prenatal exposure, similarly, the shift to identify subtle behavioral patterns before they are entrenched symptoms of ASD is also moving back in developmental time. Children as young as 14 months can be reliably diagnosed with ASD, however, most are diagnosed between the ages of 4 and 8 years, leaving little room for the efficacy of remarkable early, intensive interventions. Autism spectrum disorder is a general term for a group of complex neurological disorders involving symptoms across multiple domains, most notably in terms of social communication. Rate of recurrence in siblings is approximately 19%, much higher than the general population. As such, infant siblings comprise an important group for study, in prospectively understanding the emerging developmental pathways that may mean the difference between typical development and ASD.

The present study examined 6-month-old infant siblings in a triadic paradigm of infant, caregiver, and toy, during object learning. It was hypothesized that caregiver behavior such as gesturing, vocalizing, or calling infants by name would reflect the subtle cues caregivers may read in their infants’ gradual disengagement, resulting in higher or lower frequencies of attempts to engage. Twenty-four infant siblings and 24 infants with no ASD proband participated. Gesture, vocalizations, and calling infant by name, as well as infants’ visual attention to toy, caregiver, and other were also compared across groups along four phases of the learning paradigm.

Results of a two-way analysis of variance were not significant for any dependent variable, indicating that measures of infant behavior must be more refined and nuanced than those in the present study in order to detect reliable differences in infant or caregiver behavior at this age.