Empathic Response in High-Risk Siblings and Preterm Born Children at the Ages of 24 and 36 Months
Objectives: To compare the empathic response (ER) of two groups of infants at risk for ASD (HR-siblings, preterm born children (preterms) < 30 weeks gestational age) with low-risk (LR) children (having only TD-siblings) using frequency coding.
Methods: 62 LR-siblings, 47 preterms and 65 HR-siblings participated in an ER-task (based on Sigman et al.,1992) at the ages of 24 and 36 months. Child and researcher were playing with a hammer toy. The researcher pretended to hurt her finger by hitting it with the hammer. Interactions were video-taped and coded by two independent raters for attention and behaviour.
Results: At both ages, children showed more prosocial behaviours after hurting. The total time of social behaviours became shorter, resulting in more time for non-social behaviours after hurting.
At 24M, there was no group difference in the presence of prosocial behaviour (χ2(2)=.166,p=.92). However, more subtle differences could be detected. Group x condition interactions showed that HR-siblings tend to direct their attention away longer than preterms after the hurting occurred (F(2,167)=5.49,p=.005,Δ=.07) and that HR-siblings looked less long to the researcher’s face after hurting than LR-siblings (F(2,167)=5.29,p=.006,Δ=.05). After hurting, HR-siblings also played more with other toys by themselves than LR-siblings (F(2,167)=4.18,p=.016,Δ=.05), and with other toys also involving the researcher than preterms (F(2,167)=3.004,p=.052,Δ=.15). Group differences could be found in latency to looking at the parent’s face (F(2,16)=6.14,p=.010,Δ=.016) and the hammer (F(2,168)=3.89,p=.022,Δ=.05). LR-siblings looked faster to their parent than HR-siblings, while preterms looked later to the hammer compared to HR- and LR-siblings.
At 36M, there was again no group difference in the presence of prosocial behaviour (χ2(2)=.866,p=.649). A significant group x condition interaction (F(2,160)=8.554,p=.000,Δ=.05-06) showed that preterms looked longer to the researcher’s face after hurting than HR- and LR-siblings. There was a trend for a shorter latency until starting to play again in preterms compared to LR-siblings (F(2,159)=2.83,p=.062,Δ=.05).
Conclusions: Although no group differences in prosocial behaviours were detected, the empathic response seemed to be different in a more subtle way in HR-siblings at 24 months, mainly with regard to their attention shifted away from the researcher. The other high-risk group, the preterms, showed an empathic response that was more similar to LR-siblings, highlighting the difference in the social development and ASD-related behaviours of different high-risk groups. At the conference, frequency-coded data will be compared with qualitative ratings and group comparisons based on ASD outcome at 36 months will be presented.