Are early social communication skills a harbinger for language development in infants later diagnosed autistic?—A longitudinal study using a standardized social communication assessment

Shruthi Ravi, Allison Bradshaw, Hervé Abdi, Shoba Sreenath Meera, Julia Parish-Morris, Lisa Yankowitz, Sarah Paterson, Stephen R. Dager, Catherine A. Burrows, Chad Chappell, Tanya St.john, Annette M. Estes, Joseph Piven, Meghan R. Swanson

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The early emergence of social communication challenges and their impact on language in infants later diagnosed with autism has sparked many early intervention programs that target social communication skills. While research has consistently shown lower scores on social communication assessments in the first year of life, there is limited research at 12-months exploring associations between different dimensions of social communication and later language. Understanding associations between early social communication skills and language would enhance our ability to choose high priority intervention goals that will impact downstream language skills. The current study used a standardized assessment to profile social communication skills across 516 infants with a high (HL) or low likelihood (LL-Neg) for autism (84% White, 60% Male), based on the presence of a sibling with autism in the family. The primary aim of the study was to profile social communication skill development in the second year of life and to evaluate associations between social communication skills and later language. HL infants who met criteria for autism (HL-ASD, N = 81) demonstrated widespread reductions in social communication skills at 12-months compared to HL infants who did not meet criteria for autism (HL-Neg, N = 277) and LL-Neg (N = 158) infants. Across all infants in the study, those with better social communication skills at 12-months had better language at 24-months. However, within group analyses indicated that infants who met criteria for autism did not show this developmental coupling until 24-months-of-age at which point social communication was positively associated with downstream language skills. The cascading pattern of reduced social communication skills as well as overall significant positive associations with later language provide further evidence for the need to support developing social communication skills prior to formal autism diagnosis, a goal that could possibly be reached through pre-emptive interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number977724
JournalFrontiers in Communication
StatePublished - Oct 18 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants through the National Institutes of Health (R00-MH108700 PI Swanson, R01-HD055741 PI Piven, R01-HD055741-S1 PI Piven, P30-HD003110 PI Piven, U54 EB005149 PI Kikinis) and the Simons Foundation (SFARI Grant 140209). The funders had no role in study design, data collection, analysis, data interpretation, or the writing of the report.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Ravi, Bradshaw, Abdi, Meera, Parish-Morris, Yankowitz, Paterson, Dager, Burrows, Chappell, St.John, Estes, Piven, Swanson and the IBIS Network.


  • autism
  • infancy
  • language
  • longitudinal
  • social communication

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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