Mammen, M. A., Moore, G. A., Scaramella, L. V., Reiss, D. Ganiban, J. M., Shaw, D. S., Leve, L. D., & Neiderhiser, J. M. (2015). Infant avoidance during a tactile task predicts Autism Spectrum behaviors in toddlerhood. Infant Mental Health Journal, 36, 575–587. PMC: 4715575
Abstract: The experience of touch is critical for early communication and social interaction; infants who show aversion to touch may be at risk for atypical development and behavior problems. The current study aimed to clarify predictive associations between infant responses to tactile stimuli and toddler autism spectrum, internalizing, and externalizing behaviors. This study measured 9-month-old infants’ (N = 561; 58% male) avoidance and negative affect during a novel tactile task in which parents painted infants’ hands and feet and pressed them to paper to make a picture. Parent reports on the Pervasive Developmental Problems (PDP), Internalizing, and Externalizing scales of the Child Behavior Checklist were used to measure toddler behaviors at 18 months. Infant observed avoidance and negative affect were significantly correlated; however, avoidance predicted subsequent PDP scores only, independent of negative affect, which did not predict any toddler behaviors. Findings suggest that incorporating measures of responses to touch in the study of early social interaction may provide an important and discriminating construct for identifying children at greater risk for social impairments related to autism spectrum behaviors.