Functional aspects of infant-directed-speech (IDS) play a central role in infant development (Venuti, de Falco, Esposito, Zaninelli & Bornstein, 2012) and are important in shaping infant responsiveness (Goldstein, King & West, 2003), yet only a few studies have examined this with mothers of heightened-risk-for-autism (HR) infants (e.g., Jakubowski & Iverson, 2011; Meirsschaut, Warren & Roeyers, 2011). Further, there is little consensus on associated infant outcomes, in particular in the case of ASD. For example, Landry & Bryson (2004) showed that frequent redirection and solicitation rather than following of infant attention involves a shifting of attention that is difficult for children with ASD but Kasari, Gulsrud, Freeman, Paparella & Helleman (2012) found that directing the child’s attention had long-term beneficial effects on language development in autistic preschoolers.
- To investigate maternal functional speech styles in interaction with HR infants;
- To analyse the relationship between maternal functional style and infants’ cognitive, language and socio-communicative development.
16 English-speaking mothers (low/middle-SES) and their 17 infants participated: ten infants with no known developmental risk factors, without an autistic sibling and with no family history of ASD (low-risk LR, 7 m; 3 f ) and seven HR infants, defined as having at least one older sibling(s) with a clinical diagnosis of ASD (2 m; 5 f, incl. monozygotic twin girls). Dyads were filmed in face-to-face interaction every four weeks over a period of months leading up to their first birthday (mean infant age in months at first visit: 3;7 LR, 5;2 HR). All maternal vocalisations coded into four mutually exclusive categories (regulatory; attention-solicitation; question; responsive-contingent) were calculated as a proportion of mothers’ total output. Infants were administered the BSID-III and ESCS at 12 and 18 months.
Only proportions of responsive utterances contingent upon infant behaviour were significant, where mothers of low-risk infants (Mdn=0.18) were significantly more likely than mothers of high-risk infants (Mdn=0.13) to produce responsive speech (U=14, p<.05). Attention-solicitations were a more prominent feature of the HR mothers’ speech relative to the LR group but not significantly so.
Significant associations with maternal IDS and infant test scores were found for the LR dyads only: responsive speech was positively associated with infants’ overall language outcomes at 12 months (Kendalls tau-b=.71, p<.01) and with Receptive Language Subscale scores (Kendalls tau-b=.58, p<.05). Attention-solicitations were significantly and negatively associated with both language outcomes at 12 (Kendalls tau-b=-.61, p<.05) and 18 months (Kendalls tau-b=-.63, p<.05) and with cognitive outcomes aged 18 months (Kendalls tau-b=-.62, p<.05).
The lower rate of responsive-contingent utterances to the HR infants may be because the infants are less active and provide less opportunity for maternal commentary and response (they had lower IJA scores as measured by the ESCS than the LR infants, see also Mahdhaoui et al., 2011 & Wan et al., 2012). The increased incidence of attention-solicitations to HR infants does not appear to have the detrimental effect on developmental outcomes evidenced for the LR infants and may have a place in intervention and training programmes.
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