Publication Date

2013-06-14

Availability

Open access

Embargo Period

2013-06-14

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense

2012-10-18

First Committee Member

Daniel S. Messinger

Second Committee Member

Heather Henderson

Third Committee Member

Brian Doss

Fourth Committee Member

Michael Alessandri

Fifth Committee Member

Jeffrey Brosco

Abstract

The parent-child relationship is a central forum for the development of social and communication competencies within the first two years of life, with both parents and infants contributing to the development of these abilities. Early infant nonverbal referential communication abilities have been posited to be key infant contributions to parent-child interactions. Nonverbal referential communication is frequently, but not always, associated with social competence in typically developing children, and is consistently related to social abilities in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Nonverbal referential communication difficulties are characteristic in children with ASD, and the younger siblings of children with ASD (High-Risk infants) have demonstrated such impairments by two years of age. The current study examined the impact of early nonverbal referential communication on the quality of toddler interactive behavior during play with their parent in the second year of life. Early nonverbal referential communication was also examined as a predictor of parent behavior quality during play, as it has been suggested that early behavioral differences in children at risk for an ASD may alter their social environment due to impaired interaction abilities. Early nonverbal referential communication did not predict toddler or parent behavior quality during play. Nonverbal referential communication may be associated with specific, not overall quality of, social interactive behaviors in toddlers and parents. The parents of High- and Low-Risk infants did not differ in mean level of behavior quality during play, and toddlers did not differ by risk status in mean level of behavior quality. Parent and toddler behavior quality were strongly correlated. The association between toddler and parent behavior quality was moderated by risk status, such that parent and toddler behavior quality was strongly positively associated for Low-Risk infants. For High-Risk infants, parent behavior quality was not impacted by toddler behavior quality. While the current study does not support the direct effect of infant nonverbal referential communication on the overall quality of toddler and parent behavior during play, it adds to our understanding of the potential effects of having a High-Risk infant on parent behavior.The parent-child relationship is a central forum for the development of social and communication competencies within the first two years of life, with both parents and infants contributing to the development of these abilities. Early infant nonverbal referential communication abilities have been posited to be key infant contributions to parent-child interactions. Nonverbal referential communication is frequently, but not always, associated with social competence in typically developing children, and is consistently related to social abilities in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Nonverbal referential communication difficulties are characteristic in children with ASD, and the younger siblings of children with ASD (High-Risk infants) have demonstrated such impairments by two years of age. The current study examined the impact of early nonverbal referential communication on the quality of toddler interactive behavior during play with their parent in the second year of life. Early nonverbal referential communication was also examined as a predictor of parent behavior quality during play, as it has been suggested that early behavioral differences in children at risk for an ASD may alter their social environment due to impaired interaction abilities. Early nonverbal referential communication did not predict toddler or parent behavior quality during play. Nonverbal referential communication may be associated with specific, not overall quality of, social interactive behaviors in toddlers and parents. The parents of High- and Low-Risk infants did not differ in mean level of behavior quality during play, and toddlers did not differ by risk status in mean level of behavior quality. Parent and toddler behavior quality were strongly correlated. The association between toddler and parent behavior quality was moderated by risk status, such that parent and toddler behavior quality was strongly positively associated for Low-Risk infants. For High-Risk infants, parent behavior quality was not impacted by toddler behavior quality. While the current study does not support the direct effect of infant nonverbal referential communication on the overall quality of toddler and parent behavior during play, it adds to our understanding of the potential effects of having a High-Risk infant on parent behavior.

Keywords

Autism Risk; Early Autism Development; Infant Siblings; Parent-Child Interaction in Autism

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