Objectives: The goal of the present study is to examine the trajectory of infant imitation of social communicative behaviors from 6 to 18 months and their relation to language ability at 18 months of age in a sample of infants at risk for autism.
Methods: Data for this project was obtained from a larger ongoing longitudinal study of infants at high risk for autism (HRA) and low risk controls (LRC). Upon enrollment, parents were provided with a video camera and a brief set of instructions for filming semistructured social interactions with their infants at home, twice per month. Activities include an object exploration task, in which infants are provided with a series of toy and ‘non-toy’ objects to play with, a book reading task, and several more open-ended social games or interactions (e.g. peekaboo, singing ‘itsy bitsy spider’). Videos were coded for infant imitation of maternal vocalization, gesture, and actions and further specified by the types of imitation within each of these categories (e.g. imitates point, imitates wave, imitates shaking rattle).
Results: Home video diaries have been collected from 104 families (59 HRA, 45 LRC). Of these, 88 infants have completed their 18-month laboratory visit, which includes administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Although final group status will be determined by scores at 36 months of age, 9 children have met diagnostic criteria at 18 months and are considered to have ASD for these analyses. Results of specific behavioral trajectories (rate of gesture imitation) will be discussed.
Conclusions: The current methodology allows for a more thorough understanding of the relationship between early social communicative skills, such as imitation of caregiver vocalizations, and later language abilities. These findings will have significant clinical implications by helping parents to ‘make the most’ of these early interactions.
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