Caregiver-Infant Tactile Communication in Infants at-Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
G. Kadlaskar1, B. Keehn1, A. Seidl1, H. Tager-Flusberg2 and C. A. Nelson3, (1)Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, (2)Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA, (3)Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA
Background: Caregivers of children diagnosed with and at-risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may modify their interactive style to adapt to their child’s needs. We investigated the frequency of the tactile input presented to infants at high- and low-risk for ASD along with the percentage of the tactile input aligned with speech (touch+speech). Touch is of particular interest, as it forms the basis of early caregiver-infant interactions. For instance, greater amounts of maternal affectionate touch in early development is associated with an increase in infant smiles and vocalizations and predicts later cognitive and neurobehavioral development. Yet, prior findings indicate that, maternal touch frequency decreases after 6 months of age, mainly because, as infants become more socially competent and physically independent, mothers start using other forms of communication, primarily speech, to interact with infants. However, it remains unclear whether caregivers with infants at-risk for ASD use touch and associated speech in a different manner compared to controls. Furthermore, whether mothers’ use of touch or touch+speech input is sensitive to infants’ responsiveness, given prior research showing that high-risk infants who later received a diagnosis of ASD were less responsive to maternal touch.

Objectives: (1)To examine the frequency of touch and the percentage of touch aligned with speech provided to 12-month-olds at-risk for autism (HRA) compared to low-risk comparison (LRC) infants. (2)To examine infant responsiveness to touch and touch+speech alignment.

Methods: Data for 58 (HRA=31,LRC=27) mother-infant dyads were selected from a larger sample that was obtained as a part of a longitudinal study. Dyads participated in 10-minute play sessions using identical sets of toys and were instructed to play as they would at home. Trained coders, blind to group membership, evaluated the frequency of caregiver-initiated touches to infants during play interactions along with maternal speech and infants’ looking behaviors before, during, and after each touch.

Results: Independent samples t-tests revealed no differences in the frequency of touch delivered to infants in the HRA (M=19.87,SD=9.30) and LRC (M=16.18,SD=6.36) groups, t(56)=-1.78, p=0.09. However, the percentage of touch+speech alignment was significantly higher in the HRA (42.4%) compared to the LRC (34.7%, p=0.03) group. Lastly, infants in both the groups responded equally to touch, t(56)=0.19, p=0.8 and touch+speech input, t(56)=-0.20, p=0.8.

Conclusions: Mothers in the HRA and LRC groups deliver equal amounts of touch to their 12-month-olds. However, percentage of touch+speech alignment is higher in the HRA group. This difference is not attributable to infants’ responsiveness to either touch or touch+speech input. One possible explanation for the greater alignment of touch+speech input in the HRA group could be attributed to strategies that mothers draw from their experiences of interacting with their older child with ASD, rather than HRA infants’ responsivity to specific types of input at 12 months. In other words, differences in touch+speech alignment could be more related to mothers’ interactive styles with infants at-risk for ASD rather than being related to infant behaviors. These findings have broader implications for caregiver-infant interactions in ASD, since providing a richer multimodal input have been suggested to promote learning in typical development.