environment) as forces driving attention in service of foraging for survival- or task-relevant information.52In that study, we hypothesized that, while limited attention to social scenes may be due to a core disruption of reward circuitry, the difference in domain-specific factors may reflect limited social learning opportunities conferred by such a disruption. The observed in the current study enhanced performance of female infants at risk, even when compared to low-risk females, may represent early maturation of the system involved in evaluating the behavioral relevance of social stimuli or a compensatory process occurring in response to genetic risk factors related to ASD.52, 53Alternatively, their attentional patterns might represent heightened vigilance toward novel stimuli sometimes observed in infants who later develop anxiety symptoms, relevant here given increased risk for anxiety reported in females with ASD and related disorders.4,6Consistent with this view is the finding that the same genetic abnormality (SHANK1deletion) produces an autism phenotype in males but anxiety symptoms in females.13The hypotheses evoking the protective effects of enhanced maturation, presence of compensatory strategies, and anxiety-related mechanisms as well as their role in development of high-risk male and female sibling phenotypes await empirical verification.Findings from our study advance understanding of sexual dimorphism in the prevalence and expression of symptoms of ASD in high-risk populations. This study also provides new perspectives for genetic and neurobiological research focused on mechanisms underlying risk and protective factors involved in the development of autism symptoms. The findings are relevant to studies of interactions between early experience, brain plasticity, and the ultimate shaping of developmental trajectories. They also inform potential sources of variability and threats to replicability in experimental studies where sex effects go unexamined. Finally, these findings, which highlight specific traits associated with genetic autism risk rather than traits specifically associated with an outcome of autism, may also prove to be of interest to evolutionary biologists who consider trait benefits in special populations. Replication of this work in larger and more diverse samples and extension to other social and nonsocial contexts would contribute to elucidating the attentional mechanisms that influence outcomes in high-risk sibling populations and may suggest potential targets for early intervention.Supplementary MaterialRefer to Web version on PubMed Central for supplementary material.Chawarska et al.Page 9J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 February 15.
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