International research to understand infant patterns of development in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has recently focused on a research paradigm involving prospective longitudinal studies of infant siblings of children with autism. Such designs use a comparison group of infant siblings without any familial risks (the low-risk group) to gather longitudinal information about developmental skills across the first 3 years of life, followed by clinical diagnosis of ASD at 36 months. This review focuses on five topics: presence of ASD in the infant sibling groups, patterns and characteristics of motor development, patterns and characteristics of social and emotional development, patterns and characteristics of intentional communication, both verbal and nonverbal, and patterns that mark the onset of behaviors pathognomonic for ASD. Symptoms in all these areas typically begin to be detected during the age period of 12-24 months in infants who will develop autism. Onset of the symptoms occurs at varying ages and in varying patterns, but the pattern of frank loss of skills and marked regression reported from previous retrospective studies in 20-30% of children is seldom reported in these infant sibling prospective studies. Two surprises involve the very early onset of repetitive and unusual sensory behaviors, and the lack of predictive symptoms at the age of 6 months. Contrary to current views that autism is a disorder that profoundly affects social development from the earliest months of life, the data from these studies presents a picture of autism as a disorder involving symptoms across multiple domains with a gradual onset that changes both ongoing developmental rate and established behavioral patterns across the first 2-3 years of life.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology