Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrate a host of motor impairments that may share a common developmental basis with ASD core symptoms. School-age children with ASD exhibit particular difficulty with hand-eye coordination and appear to be less sensitive to visual feedback during motor learning. Sensorimotor deficits are observable as early as 6 months of age in children who later develop ASD; yet the interplay of early motor, visual and social skill development in ASD is not well understood. Integration of visual input with motor output is vital for the formation of internal models of action. Such integration is necessary not only to master a wide range of motor skills, but also to imitate and interpret the actions of others. Thus, closer examination of the early development of visual-motor deficits is of critical importance to ASD. In the present study of infants at high risk (HR) and low risk (LR) for ASD, we examined visual-motor coupling, or action anticipation, during a dynamic, interactive ball-rolling activity. We hypothesized that, compared to LR infants, HR infants would display decreased anticipatory response (perception-guided predictive action) to the approaching ball. We also examined visual attention before and during ball rolling to determine whether attention engagement contributed to differences in anticipation. Results showed that LR and HR infants demonstrated context appropriate looking behavior, both before and during the ball's trajectory toward them. However, HR infants were less likely to exhibit context appropriate anticipatory motor response to the approaching ball (moving their arm/hand to intercept the ball) than LR infants. This finding did not appear to be driven by differences in motor skill between risk groups at 6 months of age and was extended to show an atypical predictive relationship between anticipatory behavior at 6 months and preference for looking at faces compared to objects at age 14 months in the HR group.
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