Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)10:00 AM
Background: Gestures play an important role in early language development - they are among the first forms of communication to emerge and also predict later language performance in typically developing infants (Rowe, Ozcaliskan, & Goldin-Meadow; 2008). Infant siblings of children with autism are at increased risk for both autism and language impairments, and delays in gesture production have been identified as early as 12 months of age in infants who go on to receive a diagnosis, and at 18 months of age in high-risk infants that do not (Mitchell, et al., 2006). For children with autism, concurrent gesture use is the most consistent predictor of both expressive and receptive language abilities (Luyster, Kadlec, Carter, & Tager-Flusberg, 2008), and therefore it is important to understand the factors that predict gesture use in high-risk infants. Recent work has identified maternal gesture as one such predictor in typically developing infants, but it is unclear what role maternal gesture might play in the gesture use and language development of high-risk infants (Rowe et al., 2008). Objectives: The present study sought to examine the role of maternal and child gesture use in predicting subsequent language ability. Additionally, factors related to maternal gesture use such as broader autism phenotype characteristics and maternal depression measures will be explored. Methods: 35 laboratory free play sessions between mothers and their 12-month old infants (21 high risk autism – HRA, 14 low risk controls - LRC) were transcribed and coded for gesture use. Based on a coding scheme developed by Goldin-Meadow and colleagues, gestures belonging to the following categories were coded: deictic, representational, conventional, beat, and sign. A ‘gesture index' score was computed for each parent by totaling the number of distinct gestures used within the session and then corrected for differences in session time. Children's raw scores on the Receptive Language subscale of the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL) administered at 18 months were used as the language outcome measure. Raw total scores from the CESD were used as a measure of maternal depression. The Broader Autism Phenotype Questionnaire (BAP-Q; Hurley, Losh, Parlier, Reznick, & Piven; 2007) was also collected. Results: 4 of the 21 HRA infants received a preliminary diagnosis of autism at 18 months. To ensure that these infants were not driving any effects, they were removed from the analysis, leaving a final group of 31 infants (17 HRA, 14 LRC). Although there were no significant differences between the groups on maternal gesture index or receptive language scores at 18 months, maternal gesture and child language scores correlated only for LRC, but not HRA dyads (LRC: r = .45, HRA: r = .07). Additionally, maternal depression was negatively correlated for HRA, but not LRC mothers (LRC: r = -.15, HRA: R = -.45). Conclusions: These results suggest that maternal gesture, and factors relating to it, may play different roles in the gesture use and language development of high and low risk infants. Results from child gesture and BAP measures will also be discussed.