Infants who develop autism show smaller inventories of deictic and symbolic gestures at 12 months of age

Dennis Wu, Jason J. Wolff, Shruthi Ravi, Jed T. Elison, Annette Estes, Sarah Paterson, Tanya St. John, Hervé Abdi, Luke E. Moraglia, Joseph Piven, Meghan R. Swanson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gestures are an important social communication skill that infants and toddlers use to convey their thoughts, ideas, and intentions. Research suggests that early gesture use has important downstream impacts on developmental processes, such as language learning. However, autistic children are more likely to have challenges in their gestural development. The current study expands upon previous literature on the differences in gesture use between young autistic and non-autistic toddlers by collecting data using a parent-report questionnaire called the MCDI–Words and Gestures at three time points, 12, 18, and 24 months of age. Results (N = 467) showed that high-likelihood infants who later met diagnostic criteria for ASD (n = 73 HL-ASD) have attenuated gesture growth from 12 to 24 months for both deictic gestures and symbolic gestures when compared to high-likelihood infants who later did not meet criteria for ASD (n = 249 HL-Neg) and low-likelihood infants who did not meet criteria for ASD (n = 145 LL-Neg). Other social communicative skills, like play behaviors and imitation, were also found to be impacted in young autistic children when compared to their non-autistic peers. Understanding early differences in social communication growth before a formal autism diagnosis can provide important insights for early intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)838-851
Number of pages14
JournalAutism Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • ASD
  • MCDI
  • communication
  • development
  • gesture
  • infants

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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