Cataloguing and characterizing interests in typically developing toddlers and toddlers who develop ASD

The Ibis Network, Catherine A. Burrows, James W. Bodfish, Jason J. Wolff, Elayne P. Vollman, Melody R. Altschuler, Kelly N. Botteron, Stephen R. Dager, Annette M. Estes, Heather C. Hazlett, John R. Pruett, Robert T. Schultz, Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, Joseph Piven, Jed T. Elison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Intense interests are common in children with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and little research has characterized aspects of interests that are unique to or shared among children with and without ASD. We aimed to characterize interests in a sample of infants at high-familial-risk (HR) and low-familial-risk (LR) for ASD using a novel interview. Participants included HR siblings who were diagnosed with ASD at 24 months (HR-ASD, n = 56), HR siblings who did not receive an ASD diagnosis at 24 months (HR-Neg, n = 187), and a LR comparison group (n = 109). We developed and collected data with the Intense Interests Inventory at 18- and 24-months of age, a semi-structured interview that measures intensity and peculiarity of interests in toddlers and preschool-aged children. Intensity of interests differed by familial risk at 24 months, with HR-ASD and HR-Neg groups demonstrating equivalent intensity of interests that were higher than the LR group. By contrast, peculiarity of interest differed by ASD diagnosis, with the HR-ASD group showing more peculiar interests than the HR-Neg and LR groups at 24 months. At 18 months the HR-ASD group had more peculiar interests than the LR group, though no differences emerged in intensity of interests. This measure may be useful in identifying clinically-relevant features of interests in young children with ASD. We also replicated previous findings of males showing more intense interests at 18 months in our non-ASD sample. These results reveal new information about the nature of interests and preoccupations in the early autism phenotype. Lay summary: Intense interests are common in young children with autism and their family members. Intense interests are also prevalent among typically-developing children, and especially boys. Here we catalog interests and features of these interests in a large sample of toddlers enriched for autism risk. Children who had family members with autism had more intense interests, and those who developed autism themselves had more unusual interests at 24 months. These results highlight the importance of different aspects of interest in autism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1710-1723
Number of pages14
JournalAutism Research
Issue number8
Early online dateMay 22 2021
StatePublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was made possible by an NIH Autism Center for Excellence (ACE) Network grant (R01 HD055741) to J. Piven; grants from Autism Speaks (#6020) and the Simons Foundation (#140209) to J. Piven; grants from NIH (R01 MH118362 and MH118362‐02S1) to J. Pruett, and C. Burrows (K12‐HD055887) as well as U54 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers HD079124 to UNC (J. Piven); HD86984 to CHOP (R. Shultz). The funders had no role in study design, data collection, analysis, data interpretation, or the writing of the report. All data reported herein are available to qualified researchers through the National Data Archive.

Funding Information:
Autism Speaks, Grant/Award Number: 6020; National Institutes of Health, Grant/Award Number: R01 HD055741; NIH, Grant/Award Numbers: K12‐HD055887, HD079124, HD86984; Simons Foundation, Grant/Award Number: 140209 Funding information

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • attention
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • intense interests
  • problem behavior
  • restricted interests
  • toddlers


Dive into the research topics of 'Cataloguing and characterizing interests in typically developing toddlers and toddlers who develop ASD'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this