Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 55–71 | Cite as

Early Gesture and Vocabulary Development in Infant Siblings of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Jana M. Iverson
  • Jessie B. Northrup
  • Nina B. Leezenbaum
  • Meaghan V. Parladé
  • Erin A. Koterba
  • Kelsey L. West
Original Paper


This study examined longitudinal growth in gestures and words in infants at heightened (HR) versus low risk (LR) for ASD. The MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory was administered monthly from 8 to 14 months and at 18 and 24 months to caregivers of 14 HR infants diagnosed with ASD (HR-ASD), 27 HR infants with language delay (HR-LD), 51 HR infants with no diagnosis (HR-ND), and 28 LR infants. Few differences were obtained between LR and HR-ND infants, but HR-LD and HR-ASD groups differed in initial skill levels and growth patterns. While HR-LD infants grew at rates comparable to LR and HR-ND infants, growth was attenuated in the HR-ASD group, with trajectories progressively diverging from all other groups.


Infant siblings Autism spectrum disorder Gesture Vocabulary development 



We thank members of the Infant Communication Lab at the University of Pittsburgh for help with data collection, Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal for statistical advice, Nancy Minshew and Diane Williams for valuable contributions at various stages of the project, and Robert H. Wozniak for extensive comments on the manuscript. Special thanks to the families and infants who participated in the research. It could not have been completed without their enthusiastic and dedicated involvement.


This study was funded by grants from Autism Speaks and the National Institutes of Health (R01 HD41607 and R01 HD54979) to JMI, with additional support from HD35469 and HD055748 to N.J. Minshew.

Author Contributions

All authors contributed to the design of the study and participated in data collection. JMI, MVP and EAK conducted the initial literature review; JBN, NBL, MVP, and EAK performed the statistical analyses. JMI drafted the manuscript with contributions from JBN, NLB, and KLW. All authors read, edited, and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained for all individual participants in the study.


  1. Adolph, K. E., Robinson, S. R., Young, J. W., & Gill-Alvarez, F. (2008). What is the shape of developmental change? Psychological Review, 115(3), 527–543.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th edn., Text Revision). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.Google Scholar
  3. Arunachalam, S., & Luyster, R. J. (2016). The integrity of lexical acquisition mechanisms in autism spectrum disorders: A research review. Autism Research, 9, 810–828.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bates, E., Bretherton, I., & Snyder, L. (1988). From first words to grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bryson, S. E., Zwaigenbaum, L., Brain, J., Roberts, W., Szatmari, P., Rombough, V., & McDermott, C. (2007). A prospective case series of high-risk infants who developed autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(1), 12–24.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Camarata, S. (2014). Early identification and early intervention in autism spectrum disorders: Accurate and effective? International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 16, 1–10.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Charman, T., Swettenham, J., Baron-Cohen, S., Cox, A., Baird, G., & Drew, A. (1997). Infants with autism: An investigation of empathy, pretend play, joint attention, and imitation. Developmental Psychology, 33, 781–789.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Dale, P. S., Bates, E., Reznick, J. S., & Morisset, C. (1989). The validity of parent report instrument of child language at twenty months. Journal of Child Language, 16, 239–249.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Eigsti, I. M., & Fein, D. A. (2013). More is less: Pitch discrimination and language delays in children with optimal outcomes from autism. Autism Research, 6, 605–613.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Ellis Weismer, S., & Evans, J. (2002). The role of processing limitations in early identification of specific language impairment. Topics in Language Disorders, 22, 15–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Elsabbagh, M., & Johnson, M. H. (2016). Autism and the social brain: The first-year puzzle. Biological Psychiatry, 80, 94–99.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Estes, A., Zwaigenbaum, L., Gu, H., St.John, T., & Paterson, S.…& IBIS Network (2015). Behavioral, cognitive, and adaptive development in infants with autism spectrum disorder in the first 2 years of life. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 7, 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fenson, L., Dale, P., Reznick, J. S., Thal, D., Bates, E., Hartung, J., Pethick, S. J., & Reilly, J. (1993). The MacArthur communicative development inventories: User’s guide and technical manual. San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  14. Fenson, L., Dale, P. S., Reznick, J. S., Bates, E., Thal, D. J., & Pethick, S. J. (1994). Variability in early communicative development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(5), 1–173.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Gershkoff-Stowe, L., & Hahn, E. R. (2007). Fast mapping skills in the developing lexicon. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 50, 682–697.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Goldin-Meadow, S., Goodrich, W., Sauer, E., & Iverson, J. M. (2007). Young children use their hands to tell their mothers what to say. Developmental Science, 10, 778–785.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Heilmann, J., Weismer, S. E., Evans, J., & Hollar, C. (2005). Utility of MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory in identifying language abilities of late-talking and typically developing toddlers. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 14, 40–51.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Henderson, L., Powell, A., Gaskell Gareth, M., & Norbury, C. (2014). Learning and consolidation of new spoken words in autism spectrum disorder. Developmental Science, 17, 858–871.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Hobson, J. A., Hobson, R. P., Malik, S., Bargiota, K., & Calo, S. (2013). The relation between social engagement and pretend play in autism. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 31, 114–127.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Huttenlocher, J., Haight, W., Bryk, A., Seltzer, M., & Lyons, T. (1991). Early vocabulary growth: Relation to language input and gender. Developmental Psychology, 27, 236–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Iverson, J. M., Hall, A. J., Nickel, L., & Wozniak, R. H. (2007). The relationship between reduplicated babble onset and laterality biases in infant rhythmic arm movements. Brain and Language, 101, 198–207.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Iverson, J. M., & Wozniak, R. H. (2016). Transitions to intentional and symbolic communication. In D. Keen, H. Meadan, N. Brady & J. Halled (Eds.), Prelinguistic and minimally verbal communicators on the autism spectrum (pp. 51–72). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Järvinen-Pasley, A., Wallace, G. L., Ramus, F., Happé, F., & Heaton, P. (2008). Enhanced perceptual processing of speech in autism. Developmental Science, 11, 109–121.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Jones, E. J., Gliga, T., Bedford, R., Charman, T., & Johnson, M. H. (2014). Developmental pathways to autism: A review of prospective studies of infants at risk. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 39, 1–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Landa, R., & Garrett-Mayer, E. (2006). Development in infants with autism spectrum disorders: A prospective study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 629–638.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Landa, R. L., Holman, K. C., & Garrett-Meyer, E. (2007). Social and communication development in toddlers with early and later diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 853–864.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Lazenby, D. C., Sideridis, G. D., Huntington, N., Prante, M., Dale, P. S., Curtin, S., et al. (2016). Language differences at 12 months in infants who develop autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46, 899–909.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  28. LeBarton, E. S., & Iverson, J. M. (2016). Gesture development in toddlers with an older sibling with autism. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 51, 18–30.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. LeBarton, E. S., & Iverson, J. M. (2017). Gesture’s role in learning interactions: A focus on clinical populations. In R. B. Church, M. W. Alibali & S. D. Kelly (Eds.), Why Gesture? How the hands function in speaking, thinking and communicating (pp. 331–351). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Leezenbaum, N. B., Campbell, S. B., Butler, D. M., & Iverson, J. M. (2014). Maternal verbal responses to communication of infants at low and heightened risk for autism. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, 18, 694–703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lord, C., Risi, S., Lambrecht, L., Cook, E. H., Leventhal, B. L., DiLavore, P. C., et al. (2000). The autism diagnostic observation schedule-generic: A standard measure of social and communication deficits associated with the spectrum of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(3), 205–223.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. MacRoy-Higgins, M., Schawrtz, R. G., Shafer, V. L., & Marton, K. (2013). Influence of phonotactic probability/neighborhood density on lexical learning in late talkers. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 48, 188–199.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Messinger, D., Young, G. S., Ozonoff, S., Dobkins, K., Carter, A., et al. (2013). Beyond ASD: A BSRC study of high-risk children at three years of age. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52, 300–308.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Miller, J. F., Sedey, A. L., & Miolo, G. (1995). Validity of parent report measures of vocabulary development for children with Down syndrome. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 38, 1037–1044.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Mitchell, S., Brian, J., Zwaigenbaum, L., Roberts, W., Szatmari, P., Smith, I., & Bryson, S. (2006). Early language and communication development of infants later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 27, 69–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mullen, E. M. (1995). Mullen: Scales of early learning (AGS edn.). Circle Pines, MN: American Guideline Service, Inc.Google Scholar
  37. Nakao, K., & Treas, J. (1994). Updating occupational prestige and socioeconomic scores: How the new measures measure up. Sociological Methodology, 24, 1–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Norbury, C. F., Griffiths, H., & Nation, K. (2010). Sound before meaning: Word learning in autistic disorders. Neuropsychologia, 48(14), 4012–4019.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Oller, D. K., Eilers, R. E., Neal, A. R., & Schwartz, H. K. (1999). Precursors to speech in infancy: The prediction of speech and language disorders. Journal of Communication Disorders, 32, 223–245.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Ozonoff, S., Iosif, A., Baguio, R., Cook, I. C., Moore Hill, M., Hutman, T., et al. (2010). A prospective study of the emergence of early behavioral signs of autism. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(3), 256–266.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  41. Ozonoff, S., Young, G. S., Carter, A., Messinger, D., Yirmiya, N., Zwaigenbaum, L., et al. (2011). Recurrence risk for autism spectrum disorders: A baby siblings research consortium study. Pediatrics, 128(3), e1–e8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Parladé, M. V., & Iverson, J. M. (2015). The development of coordinated communication in infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45, 2218–2234.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  43. Peters-Scheffer, N., Didden, R., Korzilius, H., & Sturmey, P. (2011). A meta-analytic study on the effectiveness of comprehensive ABA-based early intervention programs for children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5, 60–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Raudenbush, S.W., Bryk, A., Cheong, Y.F., & Congdon, R.T. (2004). HLM 6: Hierarchical linear and nonlinear modeling. Lincolnwood, IL: Scientific Software International.Google Scholar
  45. Raudenbush, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2002). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods (Vol. 1). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  46. Rescorla, L., & Ratner, N. B. (1996). Phonetic profiles of toddlers with specific expressive language impairment (SLI-E). Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 39, 153–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rogers, S. J. (2009). What are infant siblings teaching us about autism in infancy? Autism Research, 2, 125–137.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  48. Rutherford, M. D., Young, G. S., Hepburn, S., & Rogers, S. J. (2007). A longitudinal study of pretend play in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1024–1039.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Sacrey, L. A. R., Zwaigenbaum, L., Bryson, S., Brian, J., Smith, I. M., Roberts, W., et al. (2015). Can parents’ concerns predict autism spectrum disorder? A prospective study of high-risk siblings from 6 to 36 months of age. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54, 470–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Singer, J. D. (1998). Using SAS PROC MIXED to fit multilevel models, hierarchical models, and individual growth models. Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, 24, 323–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Swingley, D. (2009). Onsets and codas in 1.5-year-olds’ word recognition. Journal of Memory and Language, 60, 252–269.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. Szatmari, P., Chawarska, K., Dawson, G., Georgiades, S., Landa, R., Lord, C., et al. (2016). Prospective longitudinal studies of infant siblings of children with autism: Lessons learned and future directions. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 55, 179–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Thal, D., Tobias, S., & Morrison, D. (1991). Language and gesture in late talkers: A one-year follow-up. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 34, 604–612.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Thal, D. J., & Katich, J. (1996). Predicaments in early identification of specific language impairment: Does the early bird always catch the worm? In K. N. Cole, P. S. Dale & D. J. Thal (Eds.), Assessment of communication and language. (Vol. 6, pp. 1–28). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.Google Scholar
  55. Thal, D. J., O’Hanlon, L., Clemmons, M., & Fralin, L. (1999). Validity of a parent report measure of vocabulary and syntax for preschool children with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 42, 482–496.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Van Dijk, M., & Van Geert, P. (2007). Wobbles, humps and sudden jumps: A case study of continuity, discontinuity and variability in early language development. Infant and Child Development, 16(, 7–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Van Geert, P., & Van Dijk, M. (2002). Focus on variability: New tools to study intra-individual variability in developmental data. Infant Behavior and Development, 25, 340–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Veness, C., Prior, M. R., Bavin, E., Eadie, P., Cini, E., & Reilly, S. (2012). Early indicators of autism spectrum disorders at 12 and 24 months of age: A prospective, longitudinal comparative study. Autism: The international Journal of Research and Practice, 16, 163–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Warlaumont, A. S., Richards, J. A., Gilkerson, J., & Oller, D. K. (2014). A social feedback loop for speech development and its reduction in autism. Psychological Science, 25, 1314–1324.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  60. Watson, L. R., Crais, E. R., Baranek, G. T., Dykstra, J. R., & Wilson, K. P. (2013). Communicative gesture use in infants with and without autism: A retrospective home video study. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 22, 25–39.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Werker, J. R., Fennell, C. T., Corcoran, K. M., & Stager, C. L. (2002). Infants’ ability to learn phonetically similar words: Effects of age and vocabulary size. Infancy, 3, 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Willett, J. B., Singer, J. D., & Martin, N. C. (1998). The design and analysis of longitudinal studies of development and psychopathology in context: Statistical models and methodological recommendations. Development and Psychopathology, 10, 395–426.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Winder, B. M., Wozniak, R. H., Parladé, M. V., & Iverson, J. M. (2013). Spontaneous initiation of communication in infants at low and heightened risk for autism spectrum disorders. Developmental Psychology, 49, 1931–1942.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Yirmiya, N., Gamliel, I., Pilowsky, T., Feldman, R., Baron-Cohen, S., & Sigman, M. (2006). The development of siblings of children with autism at 4 and 14 months: Social engagement, communication, and cognition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 511–523.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Zwaigenbaum, L., Bryson, S., Rogers, T., Roberts, W., Brian, J., & Szatmari, P. (2005). Behavioral manifestations of autism in the first year of life. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, 23, 143–152.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.TEACCH Autism ProgramUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychology, Center for Autism and Related DisabilitiesUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychology, College of Social Sciences, Mathematics, and EducationUniversity of TampaTampaUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations