Early social communication development in infants with autism spectrum disorder
Social-communication differences are a robust and defining feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) but identifying early points of divergence in infancy has been a challenge. The current study examines social communication in 9- to 12-month-old infants who develop ASD (N = 30; 23% female; 70% white) compared to typically developing (TD) infants (N = 94, 38% female; 88% white). Results demonstrate that infants later diagnosed with ASD were already exhibiting fewer social-communication skills using eye gaze, facial expression, gestures, and sounds at 9 months (effect size: 0.42-0.89). Moreover, three unique patterns of change across distinct social-communication skills were observed within the ASD group. This study documents that observable social-communication differences for infants with ASD are unfolding by 9 months, pointing to a critical window for targeted intervention.