Title: Infant – Parent interactions of reflexive and voluntary gaze and sensory responsiveness

Bengt Sivberg

Lund University, Sweden


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Screening studies of an infant population (n = 4329; 9 months of age) in primary health care with the aim to describe observed atypical behaviors that might be associated with autism spectrum disorders are sparsely reported. An observational tool, named SEEK developed for child health care, was adopted focusing on social interaction, communication, motor skills, and an interview with parents. Infants scoring highly positive on the SEEK were observed a second time by psychologists and judged to have a delayed reaction to stimuli and preverbal language development, deficits in communication skills, the latter more often among boys than girls. Twenty-three infants (AT) of those with most positive atypical performance were compared with 22 typically developing infants (TD) having no positive scores on the SEEK during spontaneous play with mother and father to challenge different play styles. 135 videos, each of five minutes, were used in the comparison and analyzed with the Observer 11.5, Noldus Information Technology. Inter-reliability of the scoring of behaviors was good. Frequency and duration of infants’ orientation towards the parents’ eye zone was significantly higher among TD than AT, indicating a stronger social gaze behavior. Findings may indicate an equal competence at reacting to reflexive stimuli but a significant difference on voluntarily responses to parents’ social invitation. The brains intentional network is highly involved in the competency of sensory responses. Already in the 1950-ties, research proposed that the general alertness (tonic - general wakefulness and arousal) did not differ between individuals with autism or not. However, those studies did not differ between tonic and phasic alertness, the latter refers to changes in response readiness to a target or activity. Filthy years later research has proposed that children with autism possess a normal ability to sustain attention and that this is not the primary impairment but may be due to developmental delay or motivational reasons. Our results support earlier research reporting of an equal competence to respond on non-social (reflexive) stimuli at this very young age. Maybe the situation would be very much the different at the ages of three or four due to developmental reasons and the delayed learning process. On the contrary, our results support a genuine difference in the early competency to respond on social stimuli during play with parent, especially the voluntarily gaze (orientation and executive competencies) interaction with the parent. The infants’ sensory responsiveness during the play were analyzed for frequency and duration measured in seconds.  Responsiveness as reaching for toys (objects), grabbing and holding toys, dropping toys, facial expressions as response of stimuli, oral sounds, imitative responses, and playtime with a toy were analyzed as well as body posture. The presentation will discuss differences between the two groups of infants, and present hypo- and hyper-responsiveness as well as sensory seeking behaviors in relation to possible neurological structures. At this very early age hypo responsiveness and sensory seeking behaviors seems to be dominant in the AT group in comparison with the TD group.