Received Aug 9 2012 revised accepted 0006 32233600 BIOL

Received aug 9 2012 revised accepted 0006 32233600

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Received Aug 9, 2012; revised Nov 15, 2012; accepted Nov 18, 2012. 0006-3223/$36.00 BIOL PSYCHIATRY 2013;74:195–203 & 2013 Society of Biological Psychiatry
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remain to be identified. An alternative possibility is that prodromal vulnerabilities in elementary aspects of attention and perception emerging in the first months of life may, by limiting access to critical social experiences, have a detrimental effect on specializa- tion of neural networks involved in social cognition. The present article examines the spontaneous monitoring of complex dynamic social scenes in 6-month-old infants at high risk and low risk for ASD. Similar research efforts targeting toddlers with ASD have uncovered pronounced deficits in this domain (33–35) . In one such study, spontaneous monitoring of an actress engaged in several kinds of activities (e.g., making a sandwich, speaking to the camera, shifting attention to various objects) was tested in 14- to 24-month-old clinic-referred toddlers with autism using eye tracking. Compared with developmentally delayed and typical control subjects, toddlers with autism showed particularly atypical visual responses when the actress tried to engage their attention using dyadic cues (i.e., eye contact and child-directed speech). In such a context, they showed diminished attention to the scene in general, and when they looked at the scene, they showed deficits in monitoring the actress’ face and mouth (33) . In typical development, the ability to orient preferentially to direct eye contact and child-directed speech are present in a rudimen- tary form from the first few days of life (36–38) . Given that learning about people is a highly experience-dependent process (39 , 40) , the presence of abnormal attention to these essential social cues in early infancy is likely to detrimentally impact the development of social cognition and communication, as well as developmentally appropriate specialization of the neural net- works involved in processing social stimuli. Thus, the ability to spontaneously regulate attention to social cues of others repre- sents a highly promising area of inquiry for studying prodromal symptoms of ASD in high-risk infants. In this study, we employed the same experimental procedure in 6-month-old infants at risk for ASD as that used in a study of 14- to 24-month-old clinic-referred toddlers (33) . We compared visual responses of infants later diagnosed with ASD with typically developing high-risk and low-risk infants, as well as high-risk infants who had a history of clinically relevant delays and abnormalities in the second year of life. We hypothesized that 6-month-old infants who later developed ASD would, in comparison with the other groups, show deficits in attending to complex social scenes in general and, in a manner similar to that observed in toddlers, would show difficulties attending to the speaker’s face and mouth.
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