Infant Effortful Control Acts As a Protective Factor for Traits of ASD in Mid-Childhood.

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
R. Bedford1, T. Gliga2, T. Charman3, M. H. Johnson4 and A. Pickles5, (1)King's College London, London, United Kingdom, (2)Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck University of London, London, United Kingdom, (3)Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, United Kingdom, (4)Centre of Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, United Kingdom, (5)Biostatistics and Health Informatics, King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, London, United Kingdom
Background: Executive function impairments are characteristic of children with developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Recently, the reverse has been proposed; that strong executive functions may act as a protective factor across developmental disorders (Johnson, 2012). In the current study we use infant effortful control (EC), a proxy measure of early infant executive function, to test the hypothesis that EC can have a protective effect on subsequent ASD traits, in children at high familial risk for ASD.

Objectives: Our aim is to test whether infant EC acts as a protective factor in relation to later ASD traits, by testing the moderating effect of EC on the association between infant Autism Observation Scale for Infants (AOSI) scores and later ASD symptoms at 7 years.

Methods: Participants were 104 infants at high and low familial risk (54 high risk, HR; 50 low risk, LR) seen at multiple visits from birth to 7 years. Data for the current study comes from the 14 month infant visit (AOSI and EC) and the 7 year visit (Social Responsiveness Scale, SRS).

Results: First we ran a simple linear regression to test the association between 14-month AOSI score and 7-year SRS, showing that increased AOSI scores were significantly associated with greater 7-year autism symptoms. Next, we included EC (high and low based on median split) and the interaction between AOSI and EC in addition to the AOSI in a multiple linear regression. Results showed a significant association between AOSI and the SRS (β = 0.63, p < 0.001) and a significant EC*AOSI interaction (β = -0.62, p = 0.001). Separate simple linear regressions indicated that the interaction was driven by a significant positive association between AOSI and ASD traits in those with low EC (p < 0.001), with no association for those with high EC (p = 0.54).

Conclusions: Results suggest that early autism-like behaviours as measured by the AOSI are only associated with subsequent symptoms of autism in those with low effortful control. This supports the hypothesis that EC may act as a protective factor in infants at-risk, perhaps allowing them to compensate for additional neural atypicalities. Future studies should investigate the potential for early executive function interventions in at-risk infants using methods such as contingent eye-tracking.