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Exploring the role of eye contact in everyday interactions: joint engagement, caregiver input, and language development in infant siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder

Roemer, Emily J. (2018) Exploring the role of eye contact in everyday interactions: joint engagement, caregiver input, and language development in infant siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The present study examined early interactions between infants at heightened risk (HR) for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their caregivers in order to better understand the social-communicative environment and its relation to language outcomes in this population. Joint engagement (JE) in HR infants (i.e., younger siblings of children with ASD) has primarily been studied in structured experimenter-infant interactions with a focus on eye contact (i.e., coordinated JE). However, recent work suggests JE without eye contact (i.e., supported JE) in naturalistic interactions is particularly important for language development. Videotaped toy play interactions in the home between 12- and 18-month old infants (at high and low risk for ASD) and their caregivers were coded into mutually exclusive engagement states, and contingent caregiver utterances and labels were coded and examined in relation to language in toddlerhood. HR infants were evaluated for diagnostic outcome at 36 months and classified into three groups: ASD, language delay but no ASD (HR-LD), and no diagnosis (HR-ND). Supported JE was prevalent in the interactions across outcome groups, while both HR-LD and HR-ASD infants spent less time in coordinated JE than their typically developing peers by 18 months. HR infants as a group spent more time solely engaged with objects and less time unengaged than their low risk peers. While caregivers provided similar rates of contingent input and labels across outcome groups, an increase in labels during coordinated JE from 12 to 18 months was apparent for HR-LD and HR-ASD infants. Furthermore, higher rates of labels during coordinated JE were associated with lower toddlerhood language scores for these groups. Findings suggest that parents may pick up on subtle differences in the second year of life and increase the number of labels they provide, but that this simply may not be enough to bolster language development for infants already on a path to communicative delays. This research highlights supported JE as a potential context for early interventions with HR infants, and a critical goal for future research will be to determine what aspects of caregiver input, at what points in development, are most effective for language learning in this population.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Roemer, Emily J.ejr54@pitt.eduejr540000-0001-6678-2875
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairIverson,
Committee MemberBrownell,
Committee MemberSilk,
Date: 26 September 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 29 May 2018
Approval Date: 26 September 2018
Submission Date: 9 August 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 59
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: joint engagement, high risk infants, autism spectrum disorder
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2018 18:39
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2018 18:39


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