Introduction to Infant-Caregiver Interactions
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by continuous impairments in social interaction and the presence of repetitive behaviors/activities. ASD symptoms are primarily visible after the first 2 years of life, yet the disorder is difficult to detect since no medical test is invented. Early identification of autism is imperative to ensuring that children with ASD are able to retrieve appropriate, evidence-based interventions that mitigate their levels of the disorder.
While there is no known cause of ASD, studying the brain-behavior pathogenesis of autism may help uncover some of the uncertainties of the disorder. Recent studies regarding disruptions to early emerging brain and behavior mechanisms highlight the importance of studying development in infants with ASD. Babies at birth have a limited collection of behaviors but over the course of many days, weeks, and months, infants acquire a wide range of behavioral abilities (Shultz et al., 2018). Although infants gain control of their eyes, neck, hands, and feet over time, it is critical to note that they simply cannot survive without constant postnatal care from their parent or caregiver. A caregiver is seen as a “partner and facilitator, matching his or her own behavior (in facial affect, vocal tone, and physical touch) to the needs of the infant in a manner that serves as the foundation for further acquisition of abilities” (Shultz et al., 2018, p. 452). The infant-caregiver dyad is an integral aspect of early development as these interactions determine the infant’s emotional and cognitive development by helping to sculpt the developing brain.
While it is widely known that a common factor of ASD is the impairments in social skills, there is little information and awareness regarding the roles of infant-caregiver interactions in dyads with ASD. Due to this lack of awareness, there is a substantial gap in our understandings of how early differences in infant sensitivity to social contingency may underlie ASD pathogenesis. Through this infant-caregiver column, I hope to bridge this gap by revealing various methods used to identify and quantify behaviors in infant-caregiver interactions to highlight the critical role of these interactions in understanding the behavioral pathogenesis of ASD and for implementing early intervention.