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    A prospective study of associations between early fearfulness and perceptual sensitivity and later restricted and repetitive behaviours in infants with typical and elevated likelihood of Autism

    Narvekar, N. and Carter Leno, V. and Pasco, G. and Johnson, Mark H. and Jones, Emily J.H. and Charman, T. and BASIS Team, The (2022) A prospective study of associations between early fearfulness and perceptual sensitivity and later restricted and repetitive behaviours in infants with typical and elevated likelihood of Autism. Autism 26 (8), pp. 1947-1958. ISSN 1362-3613.

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    Autism is diagnosed based on social and communication difficulties, restricted and repetitive behaviours (RRB) and sensory anomalies. Existing evidence indicates that anxiety and atypical sensory features are associated with RRB, but cannot clarify the order of emergence of these traits. This study uses data from a prospective longitudinal study of infants with and without a family history of autism (N=247; Elevated Likelihood N=170, Typical Likelihood N=77). Longitudinal cross-lag models tested bidirectional pathways between parent-rated infant fear/shyness and perceptual sensitivity at 8, 14 and 24 months, and associations between these domains and parent-rated RRB and social communication scores at 36 months. In addition to within-domain continuity, higher levels of fear/shyness at 14 months were associated with higher levels of perceptual sensitivity at 24 months. Higher levels of both fear/shyness and perceptual sensitivity at 24 months were associated with greater RRB and social communication scores at 36 months. Results demonstrate the directionality of developmental pathways between fear/shyness and perceptual sensitivity in infancy and toddlerhood, but question theories that argue that these domains specifically underlie RRB rather than autism. Identifying how early emerging anxiety and sensory behaviours relate to later autism is important for understanding pathways and developing targeted support for autistic children. Lay abstract Restricted interests and repetitive behaviours are central to the diagnosis of autism and can have profound effects on daily activities and quality of life. These challenges are also linked to other co-occurring conditions such as anxiety and sensory sensitivities. Here, we looked at whether early emerging signs of anxiety and sensory problems appear before symptoms of autism by studying infants with a family history of autism, as these infants are more likely to develop autism themselves. Studying infant siblings provides an opportunity for researchers to focus on early developmental markers of autism as these infants can be followed from birth. This study found that early infant signs of anxiety (e.g. fear/shyness) predicted later perceptual sensitivity, and those infants who scored higher on fear/shyness and sensitivity were more likely to experience more persistent repetitive behaviours, but also social and communication difficulties in toddlerhood. Early signs of anxiety and perceptual sensitivity may thus relate to both later social difficulties and repetitive behaviours. These findings support the importance of further research exploring the causal links between these domains in relation to autism, resulting in increased understanding of children who go onto develop autism in the future and guiding early interventions and supports.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): autism, early development pathways, elevated likelihood, restricted and repetitive behaviours, temperament
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Science > School of Psychological Sciences
    Research Centres and Institutes: Brain and Cognitive Development, Centre for (CBCD)
    Depositing User: Emily Jones
    Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2022 06:33
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 18:14


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