A previously published randomized clinical trial indicated that a developmental behavioral intervention, the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), resulted in gains in IQ, language, and adaptive behavior of children with autism spectrum disorder. This report describes a secondary outcome measurement from this trial, EEG activity.
Forty-eight 18- to 30-month-old children with autism spectrum disorder were randomized to receive the ESDM or referral to community intervention for 2 years. After the intervention (age 48 to 77 months), EEG activity (event-related potentials and spectral power) was measured during the presentation of faces versus objects. Age-matched typical children were also assessed.
The ESDM group exhibited greater improvements in autism symptoms, IQ, language, and adaptive and social behaviors than the community intervention group. The ESDM group and typical children showed a shorter Nc latency and increased cortical activation (decreased α power and increased θ power) when viewing faces, whereas the community intervention group showed the opposite pattern (shorter latency event-related potential [ERP] and greater cortical activation when viewing objects). Greater cortical activation while viewing faces was associated with improved social behavior.
This was the first trial to demonstrate that early behavioral intervention is associated with normalized patterns of brain activity, which is associated with improvements in social behavior, in young children with autism spectrum disorder.
autism; early behavioral intervention; Early Start Denver Model; event-related potentials; brain activity
This study was carried out to examine the efficacy of a 12-week, low intensity (one-hour-per-week of therapist contact), parent-delivered intervention for toddlers at risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) ages 14–24 months and their families.
A randomized controlled trial involving 98 children and families was carried out in three different sites investigating the efficacy of a parent delivery of the Early Start Denver Model (P-ESDM) (which fosters parental use of a child-centered responsive interaction style that embeds many teaching opportunities into play) compared to community treatment as usual. Assessments were completed at baseline and 12 weeks later, immediately after the end of parent coaching sessions.
There was no effect of group assignment on parent-child interaction characteristics or on any child outcomes. Both groups of parents improved interaction skills and both groups of children demonstrated progress. Parents receiving P-ESDM demonstrated significantly stronger working alliances with their therapists than did the community group. Children in the community group received significantly more intervention hours than those in the P-ESDM group. For the group as a whole, both younger child age at the start of intervention, and a greater number of intervention hours, were positively related to degree of improvement in children’s behavior for most variables.
Parent-implemented intervention studies for early ASD have thus far not demonstrated the large effects seen in intensive treatment studies. Evidence that both younger age and more intervention hours positively affect developmental rates has implications for clinical practice, service delivery, and public policy.
Early Start Denver Model (ESDM); early intervention; toddler; parent–child interaction; autism
Early emerging characteristics of visual orienting have been associated with a wide range of typical and atypical developmental outcomes. In the current study, we examined the development of visual disengagement in infants at risk for autism.
We measured the efficiency of disengaging from a central visual stimulus to orient to a peripheral one in a cohort of 104 infants with and without familial risk for autism by virtue of having an older sibling with autism.
At 7 months of age, disengagement was not robustly associated with later diagnostic outcomes. However, by 14 months, longer latencies to disengage in the subset of the risk group later diagnosed with autism was observed relative to other infants at risk and the low-risk control group. Moreover, between 7 months and 14 months, infants who were later diagnosed with autism at 36 months showed no consistent increases in the speed and flexibility of visual orienting. However, the latter developmental effect also characterized those infants who exhibited some form of developmental concerns (but not meeting criteria for autism) at 36 months.
Infants who develop autism or other developmental concerns show atypicality in the development of visual attention skills from the first year of life.
Autism; disengagement; familial risk; infant; prospective study; visual attention
The effect of expertise training with faces was studied in adults with ASD who showed initial impairment in face recognition. Participants were randomly assigned to a computerized training program involving either faces or houses. Pre- and post-testing included standardized and experimental measures of behavior and event-related brain potentials (ERPs), as well as interviews after training. After training, all participants met behavioral criteria for expertise with the specific stimuli on which they received training. Scores on standardized measures improved after training for both groups, but only the face training group showed an increased face inversion effect behaviorally and electrophysiological changes to faces in the P100 component. These findings suggest that individuals with ASD can gain expertise in face processing through training.
ASD; Face processing; Training; Intervention; ERPs; N170
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have documented deficits in face processing, face memory and abnormal activation of the neural circuitry that supports these functions. To examine speed of processing of faces in ASD, high density event-related brain potentials were recorded to images of faces, inverted faces and non-face objects from 32 high-functioning adults with ASD and controls. Participants were instructed to focus on a cross hair prior to stimulus onset; the cross-hair location directed the participant's eye gaze to the eye region at stimulus onset. Although the ASD group preformed more poorly on behavioral tests of face and object memory, both groups demonstrated similar ERP responses, characterized by greater (positive) P1 and (negative) N170 amplitude to faces vs houses. N170 speed of processing to faces did not differ between groups. However, only the control group demonstrated differential responses to upright vs inverted faces. For the ASD group, the differential response to inverted vs upright faces was associated with better performance on face memory and self-reported social skills. It is possible that the use of attention cues may facilitate face processing in high-functioning adults with ASD, suggesting that the underlying neural circuitry can be activated in adults with ASD under specific demands.
event-related potential; P100; N170; autism; face processing
Evidence from prospective high-risk infant studies suggests that early symptoms of autism usually emerge late in the first- or early in the second-year of life after a period of relatively typical development. This is the first neuroimaging study to prospectively examine white matter fiber tract organization during this interval in infants who develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by 24 months.
Participants included 92 infant siblings from an ongoing imaging study of autism. All participants had diffusion tensor imaging at 6 months and behavioral assessments at 24 months, with a majority contributing additional imaging data at either or both 12 and 24 months. At 24 months, 28 infants met criteria for ASD; 64 infants did not. Microstructural properties of white-matter fiber tracts reported to be associated with ASD or related behaviors were characterized by fractional anisotropy (FA) and radial and axial diffusivity.
FA trajectories differed significantly between infants who did versus did not develop ASD for 12 of 15 fiber tracts. Development for most fiber tracts in infants with ASD was characterized by elevated FA at 6 months followed by slower developmental change overtime relative to infants without ASD. Thus, by 24 months of age, lower FA values were evident for those with ASD.
These results suggest that the aberrant development of white matter pathways precede the manifestation of autistic symptoms in the first year of life. Longitudinal data are critical to characterizing the dynamic age-related brain and behavior changes underlying this neurodevelopmental disorder.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that affects social behavior and language acquisition. ASD exhibits great variability in outcomes, with some individuals remaining nonverbal and others exhibiting average or above average function. Cognitive ability contributes to heterogeneity in autism and serves as a modest predictor of later function. We show that a brain measure (event-related potentials, ERPs) of word processing in children with ASD, assessed at the age of 2 years (N = 24), is a broad and robust predictor of receptive language, cognitive ability, and adaptive behavior at ages 4 and 6 years, regardless of the form of intensive clinical treatment during the intervening years. The predictive strength of this brain measure increases over time, and exceeds the predictive strength of a measure of cognitive ability, used here for comparison. These findings have theoretical implications and may eventually lead to neural measures that allow early prediction of developmental outcomes as well as more individually tailored clinical interventions, with the potential for greater effectiveness in treating children with ASD.
This report describes a case study of the development of an infant with autism who was observed closely by professionals from birth and to whom a comprehensive psychological evaluation was administered at approximately 1 and 2 years of age. During the first 6 months of life, this infant displayed difficulties in oral motor coordination and muscle tone that fluctuated between hypotonia and hypertonia. He startled easily, had poor state regulation, and was hypersensitive to touch. Notably, however, during the first 6 months, this infant vocalized and responded socially to others by smiling and cooing. During the second half of the first year, he continued to demonstrate diffuse sensorimotor difficulties and diminished oral motor control. Hypersensitivity now extended to a wider range of stimuli. He had problems in sleep regulation. Motor stereotypies, including rocking, head banging, and toe walking, were observed. Difficulties in the domain of social interaction began to emerge during the second 6 months, including poor eye contact, failure to engage in imitative games, and lack of imitative vocal responses. By a little over 1 year of age, this infant met diagnostic criteria for autism based on the Autism Diagnostic Interview. There were several domains in which this toddler with autism did not show impairments. In the areas of immediate memory for actions, working memory, response inhibition, and speech perception, this 1-year old with autism displayed no evidence of significant impairment on the tests administered. This case study offers clues regarding the nature of autism at its earliest stages. Understanding early development in autism will be important for developing early screening and diagnostic tools.
This study utilized electroencephalographic recordings to examine whether young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have impaired face recognition ability. High-density brain event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded to photos of the child’s mother’s face versus an unfamiliar female face and photos of a favorite versus an unfamiliar toy from children with ASD, children with typical development, and children with developmental delay, all 3 to 4 years of age (N = 118). Typically developing children showed ERP amplitude differences in two components, P400 and Nc, to a familiar versus an unfamiliar face, and to a familiar versus an unfamiliar object. In contrast, children with ASD failed to show differences in ERPs to a familiar versus an unfamiliar face, but they did show P400 and Nc amplitude differences to a familiar versus an unfamiliar object. Developmentally delayed children showed significant ERP amplitude differences for the positive slow wave for both faces and objects. These data suggest that autism is associated with face recognition impairment that is manifest early in life.
This study investigated the unique contributions of joint attention, imitation, and toy play to language ability and rate of development of communication skills in young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Sixty preschool-aged children with ASD were assessed using measures of joint attention, imitation, toy play, language, and communication ability. Two skills, initiating protodeclarative joint attention and immediate imitation, were most strongly associated with language ability at age 3–4 years, whereas toy play and deferred imitation were the best predictors of rate of communication development from age 4 to 6.5 years. The implications of these results for understanding the nature and course of language development in autism and for the development of targeted early interventions are discussed.
Autism; Language; Communication; Joint attention; Imitation; Play
Siblings of children with autism have an increased risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). As children with autism often exhibit an atypical trajectory of head circumference (HC) growth, HC may be an indicator of vulnerability to autism. This study investigated whether infant siblings of children with ASD (n = 77) with an atypical trajectory of HC growth were more likely than those without an atypical HC trajectory to develop autism symptoms. Results showed that infants who had larger HC at 12 months, and whose HC growth rate decelerated more rapidly between 12 and 24 months were more likely to exhibit autism symptoms than infants with more typical HC trajectories. Among infant siblings of children with autism, atypical HC growth might alert pediatricians to provide screening and/or referral for further evaluation.
Autism; Head circumference; Infant siblings
The broader autism phenotype was assessed in parents who have two or more children with ASD (multiplex autism), parents who have no more than one child with ASD (simplex autism), parents who have a child with developmental delay without ASD, and parents who have typically developing children. Clinicians, naive to parent group membership status, rated broader autism phenotype characteristics from videotaped administration of the Broader Autism Phenotype Symptom Scale (BPASS). Differences among groups in BPASS scores in the four assessed domains (social motivation, conversational skills, expressiveness, and restricted interests) were examined using multivariate ANOVA and post-hoc comparisons. Further, ratings of videotapes by observers naive to family status were compared to live, non-naïve ratings by observers who were aware of family status (non-naïve). Findings demonstrate that the BPASS is an instrument resistant to rater bias. Parents from multiplex autism families showed significantly more autism phenotype characteristics than the parents in the other groups. Moreover, the parents from simplex autism families did not differ from the parents of children with developmental delay or typical development. Finally, no differences between live, non-naive ratings and videotaped, naive ratings were observed. These findings suggest that characteristics of the broader autism phenotype, specifically in the social and communication domains, are present in multiplex autism parents to a greater degree than simplex autism and control parents. Further, the results provide support for the notion that genetic transmission mechanisms may differ between families with more than one child with autism and families with only one child with autism.
broader autism phenotype; autism spectrum disorders; genetics; autism assessment
There is increasing evidence to show that indicators other than socio-cognitive abilities might predict communicative function in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). A potential area of research is the development of speech motor function in toddlers. Utilizing a novel measure called “articulatory features,” we assess the abilities of toddlers to produce sounds at different timescales as a metric of their speech motor skills. In the current study, we examined (1) whether speech motor function differed between toddlers with ASD, developmental delay (DD), and typical development (TD); and (2) whether differences in speech motor function are correlated with standard measures of language in toddlers with ASD. Our results revealed significant differences between a subgroup of the ASD population with poor verbal skills, and the other groups, for the articulatory features associated with the shortest-timescale, namely place of articulation (POA), (p < 0.05). We also found significant correlations between articulatory features and language and motor ability as assessed by the Mullen and the Vineland scales for the ASD group. Our findings suggest that articulatory features may be an additional measure of speech motor function that could potentially be useful as an early risk indicator of ASD.
autism; language; vocalizations; speech motor development; articulatory features
Using two versions of the A-not-B task, memory and response inhibition were assessed in 17- to 24-month-old children with surgically corrected single-suture craniosynostosis (cases) and unaffected children (controls). Children’s development and language were initially assessed on average at 6–7 months of age and again at this second visit. Cases and controls performed at equivalent levels on average, with cases performing slightly better than controls on several of the variables measured. However, fewer cases than controls were able to complete the more challenging of the two tasks, which may have predictive significance for later functioning. Children’s age and cognitive ability were related to successful performance on the A-not-B task. Among cases, age of cranioplastic surgery was unrelated to performance. Our findings suggest that children with single-suture craniosynostosis show normal development of visual memory and response inhibition in the age range studied here.
single-suture craniosynostosis; neuropsychological function; visual attention; memory; inhibitory control
Recent evidence suggests that a rapid, automatic face-detection system is supported by subcortical structures including the amygdala, pulvinar, and superior colliculus. Early emerging abnormalities in these structures may be related to reduced social orienting in children with autism, and subsequently, to aberrant development of cortical circuits involved in face processing. Our objective was to determine whether functional abnormalities in the subcortical face processing system are present in adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) during supraliminal fearful face processing. Participants included twenty-eight individuals with ASD and 25 controls group-matched on age, IQ, and behavioral performance. The ASD group met diagnostic criteria on the ADI-R, ADOS-G, and DSM-IV. Both the ASD and control groups showed significant activation in bilateral fusiform gyri. The control group exhibited additional significant responses in the right amygdala, right pulvinar, and bilateral superior colliculi. In the direct group comparison, the controls showed significantly greater activation in the left amygdala, bilateral fusiform gyrus, right pulvinar, and bilateral superior colliculi. No brain region showed significantly greater activation in the ASD group compared to the controls. Thus, basic rapid face identification mechanisms appear to be functional in ASD. However, individuals with ASD failed to engage the subcortical brain regions involved in face detection and automatic emotional face processing, suggesting a core mechanism for impaired socioemotional processing in ASD. Neural abnormalities in this system may contribute to early emerging deficits in social orienting and attention, the putative precursors to abnormalities in social cognition and cortical face processing specialization.
Difficulty interpreting facial expressions has been reported in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and is thought to be associated with amygdala abnormalities. To further explore the neural basis of abnormal emotional face processing in ASD, we conducted an fMRI study of emotional face matching in high-functioning adults with ASD and age, IQ, and gender matched controls. In addition, we investigated whether there was a relationship between self-reported social anxiety and fMRI activation. During fMRI scanning, study participants were instructed to match facial expressions depicting fear or anger. The control condition was a comparable shape - matching task. The control group evidenced significantly increased left prefrontal activation and decreased activation in the occipital lobes compared to the ASD group during emotional face matching. Further, within the ASD group, greater social anxiety was associated with increased activation in right amygdala and left middle temporal gyrus, and decreased activation in the fusiform face area. These results indicate that level of social anxiety mediates the neural response to emotional face perception in ASD.
Autism; Asperger’s disorder; amygdala; anxiety; emotional face processing; fusiform face area
Structural variations in the chromosome 22q11.2 region mediated by non-allelic homologous recombination result in 22q11.2 deletion (del22q11.2) and 22q11.2 duplication (dup22q11.2) syndromes. The majority of del22q11.2 cases have facial and cardiac malformations, immunologic impairments, specific cognitive profile and increased risk for schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. The phenotype of dup22q11.2 is frequently without physical features but includes the spectrum of neurocognitive abnormalities. Although there is substantial evidence that haploinsufficiency for TBX1 plays a role in the physical features of del22q11.2, it is not known which gene(s) in the critical 1.5 Mb region are responsible for the observed spectrum of behavioral phenotypes. We identified an individual with a balanced translocation 46,XY,t(1;22)(p36.1;q11.2) and a behavioral phenotype characterized by cognitive impairment, autism and schizophrenia in the absence of congenital malformations. Using somatic cell hybrids and comparative genomic hybridization we mapped the chromosome-22 breakpoint within intron 7 of the GNB1L gene. Copy number evaluations and direct DNA sequencing of GNB1L in 271 schizophrenia and 513 autism cases revealed dup22q11.2 in two families with autism and private GNB1L missense variants in conserved residues in three families (p=0.036). The identified missense variants affect residues in the WD40 repeat domains and are predicted to have deleterious effects on the protein. Prior studies provided evidence that GNB1L may have a role in schizophrenia. Our findings support involvement of GNB1L in autism spectrum disorders as well.
22q11.2; translocation; neurodevelopmental disorders
We investigated repetitive and stereotyped behavior (RSB) and its relationship to morphometric measures of the basal ganglia and thalami in 3-4 year old children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n=77) and developmental delay without autism (DD; n=34). Children were assessed through clinical evaluation and parent report using RSB-specific scales extracted from the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), the Autism Diagnostic Interview, and the Aberrant Behavior Checklist. A subset of children with ASD (n=45), DD (n=14) and a group of children with typical development (TD; n=25) were also assessed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Children with ASD demonstrated elevated RSB across all measures compared to children with DD. Enlargement of the left and right striatum, more specifically the left and right putamen, and left caudate, was observed in the ASD compared to the TD group. However, nuclei were not significantly enlarged after controlling for cerebral volume. The DD group, in comparison to the ASD group, demonstrated smaller thalami and basal ganglia regions even when scaled for cerebral volume, with the exception of the left striatum, left putamen, and right putamen. Elevated RSB, as measured by the ADOS, was associated with decreased volumes in several brain regions: left thalamus, right globus pallidus, left and right putamen, right striatum and a trend for left globus pallidus and left striatum within the ASD group. These results confirm earlier reports that RSB is common early in the clinical course of ASD and, furthermore, demonstrate that such behaviors may be associated with decreased volumes of the basal ganglia and thalamus.
Performance IQ (PIQ) greater than verbal IQ (VIQ) is often observed in studies of the cognitive abilities of autistic individuals. This characteristic is correlated with social and communication impairments, key parts of the autism diagnosis. We present the first genetic analyses of IQ discrepancy (PIQ–VIQ) as an autism-related phenotype. We performed genome-wide joint linkage and segregation analyses on 287 multiplex families, using a Markov chain Monte Carlo approach. Genetic data included a genome-scan of 387 micro-satellite markers in 210 families augmented with additional markers added in a subset of families. Empirical P values were calculated for five interesting regions. Linkage analysis identified five chromosomal regions with substantial regional evidence of linkage; 10p12 [P = 0.001; genome-wide (gw) P = 0.05], 16q23 (P = 0.015; gw P = 0.53), 2p21 (P = 0.03, gw P = 0.78), 6q25 (P = 0.047, gw P = 0.91) and 15q23–25 (P = 0.053, gw P = 0.93). The location of the chromosome 10 linkage signal coincides with a region noted in a much earlier genome-scan for autism, and the chromosome 16 signal coincides exactly with a linkage signal for non-word repetition in specific language impairment. This study provides strong evidence for a QTL influencing IQ discrepancy in families with autistic individuals on chromosome 10, and suggestive evidence for a QTL on chromosome 16. The location of the chromosome 16 signal suggests a candidate gene, CDH13, a T-cadherin expressed in the brain, which has been implicated in previous SNP studies of autism and ADHD.
For decades, researchers have sought to clarify the nature of the social communication impairments in autism, highlighting impaired or atypical 'social attention' as a key measurable construct that helps to define the core impairment of social communication. In this paper, we provide an overview of research on social attention impairments in autism and their relation to deficiencies in neural circuitry related to social reward. We offer a framework for considering social attention as a potential moderator or mediator of response to early behavioral intervention, and as an early indicator of efficacy of behavioral and/or pharmacological treatments aimed at addressing the social impairments in autism.
Autism; Autism spectrum disorder; Social reward; Social attention; Oxytocin; Clinical trials; Behavioral intervention
The inheritance pattern in most cases of autism is complex. The risk of autism is increased in siblings of children with autism and previous studies have indicated that the level of risk can be further identified by the accumulation of multiple susceptibility single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) allowing for the identification of a higher-risk subgroup among siblings. As a result of the sex difference in the prevalence of autism, we explored the potential for identifying sex-specific autism susceptibility SNPs in siblings of children with autism and the ability to develop a sex-specific risk assessment genetic scoring system.
SNPs were chosen from genes known to be associated with autism. These markers were evaluated using an exploratory sample of 480 families from the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) repository. A reproducibility index (RI) was proposed and calculated in all children with autism and in males and females separately. Differing genetic scoring models were then constructed to develop a sex-specific genetic score model designed to identify individuals with a higher risk of autism. The ability of the genetic scores to identify high-risk children was then evaluated and replicated in an independent sample of 351 affected and 90 unaffected siblings from families with at least 1 child with autism.
We identified three risk SNPs that had a high RI in males, two SNPs with a high RI in females, and three SNPs with a high RI in both sexes. Using these results, genetic scoring models for males and females were developed which demonstrated a significant association with autism (P = 2.2 × 10-6 and 1.9 × 10-5, respectively).
Our results demonstrate that individual susceptibility associated SNPs for autism may have important differential sex effects. We also show that a sex-specific risk score based on the presence of multiple susceptibility associated SNPs allow for the identification of subgroups of siblings of children with autism who have a significantly higher risk of autism.
Autism; risk assessment; common variants; genetic score; sex effects
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a highly heritable disorder of complex and heterogeneous aetiology. It is primarily characterized by altered cognitive ability including impaired language and communication skills and fundamental deficits in social reciprocity. Despite some notable successes in neuropsychiatric genetics, overall, the high heritability of ASD (~90%) remains poorly explained by common genetic risk variants. However, recent studies suggest that rare genomic variation, in particular copy number variation, may account for a significant proportion of the genetic basis of ASD. We present a large scale analysis to identify candidate genes which may contain low-frequency recessive variation contributing to ASD while taking into account the potential contribution of population differences to the genetic heterogeneity of ASD. Our strategy, homozygous haplotype (HH) mapping, aims to detect homozygous segments of identical haplotype structure that are shared at a higher frequency amongst ASD patients compared to parental controls. The analysis was performed on 1,402 Autism Genome Project trios genotyped for 1 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We identified 25 known and 1,218 novel ASD candidate genes in the discovery analysis including CADM2, ABHD14A, CHRFAM7A, GRIK2, GRM3, EPHA3, FGF10, KCND2, PDZK1, IMMP2L and FOXP2. Furthermore, 10 of the previously reported ASD genes and 300 of the novel candidates identified in the discovery analysis were replicated in an independent sample of 1,182 trios. Our results demonstrate that regions of HH are significantly enriched for previously reported ASD candidate genes and the observed association is independent of gene size (odds ratio 2.10). Our findings highlight the applicability of HH mapping in complex disorders such as ASD and offer an alternative approach to the analysis of genome-wide association data.
Electronic supplementary material
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Longitudinal studies of head circumference growth in infants later diagnosed with autism are needed to understand the accelerated head growth in this disorder.
We analyzed longitudinal head circumference data from birth to 3 years in 28 children later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder on the basis of individual growth curve analyses using hierarchical linear models.
Head circumference Z scores relative to norms significantly increased in the autism sample from birth to 12 months, but this pattern did not persist beyond 12 months. Rather, the rate of change in head circumference from 12 to 36 months was not different from the normative sample.
These results suggest that a period of exceptionally rapid head growth occurs during the first year of life in autism; after 12 months of age, the rate of head circumference growth decelerates relative to the rate during the first year of life. Studies of behavioral development in infants later diagnosed with autism suggest that the period of acceleration of head growth precedes and overlaps with the onset of behavioral symptoms, and the period of deceleration coincides with a period of worsening of symptoms in the second year of life.
Autism; head circumference; hierarchical linear models; infants; longitudinal
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have pervasive impairments in social functioning, which may include problems with processing and remembering faces. In this study, we examined whether posterior ERP components associated with identity processing (P2, N250 and face-N400) and components associated with early-stage face processing (P1 and N170) are atypical in ASD. We collected ERP responses to a familiar repeated face (Familiar), an unfamiliar repeated face (Other) and novel faces (Novels) in 29 high functioning adults with ASD and matched controls. For both groups, the P2 and N250 were sensitive to repetition (Other vs. Novels) and personal familiarity (Familiar vs. Other), and the face-N400 was sensitive to repetition. Adults with ASD did not show significantly atypical processing of facial familiarity and repetition in an ERP paradigm, despite showing significantly poorer performance than controls on a behavioral test of face memory. This study found no evidence that early-stage facial identity processing is a primary contributor to the face recognition deficit in high functioning ASD.
ERP; P100; N170; N250; autism; face memory
We explored social information processing and its relation to social and communicative symptoms in toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their siblings. Toddlers with more severe symptoms of autism showed slower habituation to faces than comparison groups; slower face learning correlated with poorer social skills and lower verbal ability. Unaffected toddlers who were siblings of children with ASD also showed slower habituation to faces compared with toddlers without siblings with ASD. We conclude that slower rates of face learning may be an endophenotype of ASD and is associated with more severe symptoms among affected individuals.
Habituation; Autism/ASD; Face processing; Toddlers; Broader phenotype