Non-verbal communication can predict autism


As many at 19% of children with a sibling who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will also develop autism as a result of genetic similarities and/or environmental vulnerabilities.

The University of Miami (UM) has developed a way to predict the occurrence of ASD in high-risk children early in their lives.

Early intervention may help these children achieve a better outcome in their futures.

Early identification enhances intervention

Basically, their research showed that measures of non-verbal communication in children, as young as eight months of age, predict autism symptoms that will become evident by age three. Early identification can enhance intervention.

The keys are in referential communication

"For children at risk of developing an ASD, specific communication-oriented interventions during the first years of life can lessen the severity of autism’s impact," said Daniel Messenger, professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UM and principal investigator of the study.

Before they acquire the ability to talk, children are learning to communicate non-verbally by using their eyes and gestures. This is called referential communication and starts around eight months of age. "Impairments in non-verbal referential communication are characteristic of older children with ASD," explained Caroline Grantz, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at UM and co-author of the study.

Testing the ways babies communicate

During testing, the researchers measured three things:

  1. Initiating Joint Attention (IJA), which is the way infants show interest in an object
  2. Initiating Behavioral Requests (IBR), which is the way an infant requests help
  3. Joint Attention (RA), which is the way infants follow behavior

"Overall, infants with the lowest rates of IJA at eight months showed lower social engagement with an examiner at 30 months of age," revealed Lisa Ibanez, research scientist and first author of the study.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Infancy

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