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Coordinated communication and walking in infants at heightened risk for autism spectrum disorder

Steward, Sarah (2020) Coordinated communication and walking in infants at heightened risk for autism spectrum disorder. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by communication difficulties during infancy (Jones et al., 2014). Additionally, infants with ASD learn to walk later than neurotypical infants (West, 2018). Overwhelmingly, studies focus on either communication or motor behavior, but infant development does not behave so independently. Motor delays may have cascading adverse effects on communication. This study bridges motor and communication research, investigating how learning to walk—a major motor achievement—affects how neurotypical infants and those with ASD gesture. One hundred and sixteen infants were seen in their homes on a monthly basis from 5-18 months of age. Twenty-five infants had no family history of ASD. Ninety-one infants had an older sibling with an ASD diagnosis and were assessed by a clinician at 36 months. Based on clinical best estimates, infants were assigned to one of three outcome categories: no diagnosis, language delay, or ASD diagnosis. This study focused on data from 7 monthly sessions, which were anchored by infants’ walk onset. At each session, we coded the frequency of gestures and the extent to which they were paired with vocalizations or social gaze during 10 minutes of naturalistic play. Results revealed that infants who developed typically—regardless of genetic risk for ASD—increasingly coordinated gestures with vocalizations and gaze after they started walking. Conversely, infants later diagnosed with ASD produced fewer gestures overall and did not increase their coordinated gestures after they began walking. Findings may inform early intervention strategies for very young children with ASD. Specifically, comprehensive clinical strategies should integrate motor-based approaches (e.g., physical therapy) with communication-focused approaches (e.g., speech-language therapy) to maximize client progress.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Steward, Sarahses210@pitt.eduses2100000-0002-1758-8133
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Thesis AdvisorIverson, Janajiverson@pitt.edujiverson
Committee MemberGoffman,
Committee MemberLundblom, Erinlundblom@pitt.edulundblom
Committee MemberDuff, Dawnadduff@pitt.edudduff
Date: 1 May 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 March 2020
Approval Date: 1 May 2020
Submission Date: 12 April 2020
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 59
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: David C. Frederick Honors College
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences > Communication Science and Disorders
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: autism spectrum disorder, communication development, infant development, motor development
Date Deposited: 01 May 2020 20:23
Last Modified: 01 May 2022 05:15


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