Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Daniel S. Messinger

Second Committee Member

Alexandra Quittner

Third Committee Member

Marygrace Yale Kaiser

Fourth Committee Member

Michael Alessandri

Fifth Committee Member

Shannon K. de l'Etoile


Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and their infant siblings (ASD-siblings), exhibit deficits in their ability to shift visual attention, and to initiate and respond to joint attention. The current study examined early associations between visual attention and joint attention, and between these types of attention and later language ability and ASD severity in ASD-siblings (n = 31). This study investigated the possibility that ASD-siblings, who are at-risk for atypical development, differed from infants who have an older sibling(s) with no evidence of an ASD (Comparison-siblings; n = 23) on the following: 1) means of visual and joint attention, 2) the associations between these constructs, and 3) developmental trajectories of joint attention. Early visual attention was measured using infants' gazes at and away their parents' faces during the Face-to-Face Still-Face Protocol at 6 months. Initiating joint attention (IJA) and responding to joint attention (RJA) were measured during the Early Social Communication Scales at 8, 10, 12, 15, and 18 months. Language ability was measured with the Mullen Scales of Early Learning language at 24 and 36 months. ASD severity was measured on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule at 30 months. Results indicated that ASD-siblings and Comparison-siblings were comparable in their gaze shifting and mean durations of gazes away from their parents' faces. These two components of visual attention were associated with parent behaviors, and the type of chair infants sat in. There were group differences in IJA at 10 months and RJA at 8, 15, 18 months, with ASD-siblings performing fewer behaviors than Comparison-siblings. There were developmental associations between visual and joint attention, and joint attention and later language and ASD severity. ASD-siblings differed from Comparison-siblings in their RJA development. ASD-siblings also had lower language ability and greater ASD severity than Comparison-siblings. The current study's limitations included low statistical power, and a difficulty inherent to prospective studies, which are at a disadvantage because a high proportion ASD-siblings may not develop an ASD. Nevertheless, the findings have clinical implications for the development of interventions targeting RJA behaviors within the first year of life.


Early Attention; Autism Spectrum Disorders; Infant Siblings