Associations between early language, motor abilities, and later autism traits in infants with typical and elevated likelihood of autism

Leyan Li, Greg Pasco, Jannath Begum Ali, Mark H. Johnson, Emily J.H. Jones, Tony Charman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Slower acquisition of language and motor milestones are common in infants with later autism and studies have indicated that motor skills predict the rate of language development, suggesting these domains of development may be interlinked. However, the inter-relationships between the two domains over development and emerging autistic traits are not fully established. We studied language and motor development using standardized observational and parent-report measures in infants with (n = 271) and without (n = 137) a family history of autism across four waves of data collection from 10 to 36 months. We used Random Intercept Cross-Lagged Panel Models to examine contemporaneous and longitudinal associations between language and motor developments in both elevated and typical likelihood groups. We estimated paths between language and motor abilities at 10, 14, 24, and 36 months and autism trait scores at 36 months, to test whether the domains were interrelated and how they related to emerging autism traits. Results revealed consistent bidirectional Expressive Language (EL) and Fine Motor (FM) cross-lagged effects from 10 to 24 and a unidirectional EL to FM effect from 24 to 36 months as well as significantly correlated random intercepts between Gross motor (GM) and Receptive language (RL), indicating stable concurrent associations over time. However, only the associations between GM and RL were associated with later autism traits. Early motor and language are linked, but only gross motor and receptive language are jointly associated with autistic traits in infants with an autism family history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2184-2197
Number of pages14
JournalAutism research
Issue number11
Early online date9 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Dec 2023


  • autism
  • language
  • motor ability
  • social responsive scale
  • standardized measures


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