Gaze Aversion and Self-Soothing at 3-Months and Social-Communicative Outcome at 12-Months for Infants at High- and Low-Risk for ASD: An Exploration of Differences in Self-Regulatory Capacities
Objectives: The goal of the current study is to investigate self-regulatory strategies used by infants at high- and low-risk for ASD during parent-infant interactions and to associate these patterns with later developing social-communication skills
Methods: Participants included infants at high-risk (HR, N=13) and low-risk (LR, N=12) for ASD followed from 3-months through 12-months of age. At 3-months infants participated in a 30-second parent-infant interaction; parents were not touching or holding their infant to ensure the absence of potential external regulatory mechanisms. Parent-infant interactions were coded for the occurrence of self-regulatory gaze aversion (looking away from the caregiver) and self-soothing (“hand-to-mouth”). At 12-months, the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS) was administered and the Social subscales were included as a measure of social-communicative ability.
Results: Results revealed no significant differences between groups in the amount of time spent using either self-regulatory strategy. There was a significant association between the use of gaze aversion during parent-infant interactions at 3-months and nonverbal communication at 12-months for LR infants (r=.71,p<.05), but not HR infants (r=-.06,ns). A trend was observed for both HR and LR infants that suggested a negative association between self-soothing and nonverbal communication at 12-months (HR:r=-.45, LR:r=-.53, ns). That is, high rates of self-soothing at 3-months were associated with lower rates of nonverbal communication at 12-months.
Conclusions: This study provides initial results indicating comparable use of self-regulatory strategies for high-risk and low-risk infants and unique relationships to social-communicative outcome. First, results suggest that using gaze aversion to self-regulate during social interactions promotes later social-communicative development for LR infants, but not HR infants. In contrast, self-soothing was marginally, negatively associated with nonverbal social-communication for both groups. Perhaps increased self-soothing is indicative of increased distress in response to social interaction, and thus these infants are less likely to communicate with an unfamiliar examiner in an unstructured setting at 12-months. Future analyses with additional participants will strengthen findings and further elucidate these patterns. Overall, this study highlights a novel approach for exploration of the unfolding of social behavior in very young infants and suggests that early self-regulatory strategies could provide a foundational context for the emergence of social-communication.