To compare the early social-communicative development of younger siblings of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) with that of younger siblings of children with typical development, using parental report and child-based measures.
Vanderbilt University, between July 1, 2003, and July 31, 2006.
Younger siblings of children with ASD (n = 64) and younger siblings of children with typical development (n = 42) between the ages of 12 and 23 months (mean, 16 months).
Having a sibling with an ASD.
Child-based measures included a cognitive assessment; an interactive screening tool assessing play, imitation, and communication; and a rating of autism symptoms. Parental report measures were an interview of social-communicative interactions and a questionnaire assessing language and communication skills.
Younger siblings of children with ASD demonstrated weaker performance in nonverbal problem solving (mean difference [MD], 5.91; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.48-9.34), directing attention (MD, 0.52; 95% CI, 0.07-0.97), understanding words (MD, 33.30; 95% CI, 3.11-63.48), understanding phrases (MD, 4.56; 95% CI, 1.85-7.27), gesture use (MD, 1.49; 95% CI, 0.51-2.47), and social-communicative interactions with parents (MD, 1.32; 95% CI, 0.27-2.37), and had increased autism symptoms (MD, 2.54; 95% CI, 1.05-4.03), relative to control siblings. A substantial minority of the ASD sibling group exhibited lower performance relative to controls. Significant correlations between child-based measures and parental reports assessing similar constructs were found (r = −0.74 to 0.53; P range, .000-.002).
The weaker performance found for children in the ASD sibling group may represent early-emerging features of the broader autism phenotype, thus highlighting the importance of developmental surveillance for younger siblings.