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Neurocognitive and observational markers: Prediction of autism spectrum disorder from infancy to mid-childhood

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Rachael Bedford, Teodora Gliga, Elizabeth Shephard, Mayada Elsabbagh, Andrew Pickles, Tony Charman, Mark H. Johnson

Original languageEnglish
Article number49
JournalMolecular autism
Issue number1
StatePublished - 22 Sep 2017


King's Authors


Background: Prospective studies of infants at high familial risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have identified a number of putative early markers that are associated with ASD outcome at 3 years of age. However, some diagnostic changes occur between toddlerhood and mid-childhood, which raises the question of whether infant markers remain associated with diagnosis into mid-childhood. Methods: First, we tested whether infant neurocognitive markers (7-month neural response to eye gaze shifts and 14-month visual disengagement latencies) as well as an observational marker of emerging ASD behaviours (the Autism Observation Scale for Infants; AOSI) predicted ASD outcome in high-risk (HR) 7-year-olds with and without an ASD diagnosis (HR-ASD and HR-No ASD) and low risk (LR) controls. Second, we tested whether the neurocognitive markers offer predictive power over and above the AOSI. Results: Both neurocognitive markers distinguished children with an ASD diagnosis at 7 years of age from those in the HR-No ASD and LR groups. Exploratory analysis suggested that neurocognitive markers may further differentiate stable versus lost/late diagnosis across the 3 to 7 year period, which will need to be tested in larger samples. At both 7 and 14 months, combining the neurocognitive marker with the AOSI offered a significantly improved model fit over the AOSI alone. Conclusions: Infant neurocognitive markers relate to ASD in mid-childhood, improving predictive power over and above an early observational marker. The findings have implications for understanding the neurodevelopmental mechanisms that lead from risk to disorder and for identification of potential targets of pre-emptive intervention.

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