In this week’s blog we summarize research about the developmental sequence of early social skills for children with ASD, the development of executive functioning skills in children with cochlear implants, and the impact of parent-reported behavior problems on M-CHAT scores.
Scaling of Early Social Cognitive Skills in Typically Developing Infants and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Differences in social skills between typically-developing children and children with autism are observable at young ages, but it’s unclear exactly when and in what order these differences in skills begin to emerge. In this study, typically-developing toddlers completed social tasks of varying complexity to determine the order in which they were mastered over time. After this developmental order was established, toddlers with ASD completed the same tasks. They found that children with autism passed the complex social tasks at a significantly lower rate than the typically-developing children, but that both groups passed tasks in the same order. This suggests that children with autism follow the same developmental trajectory of social skills as typically-developing children, and that early developing skills (e.g., following another’s eye gaze) may be essential for later skills (e.g., re-engaging an adult who has switched their focus of attention). This study had a small sample size (24 children with autism), so results should be replicated with a larger sample before generalizing these findings to the broader autism population.
Longitudinal Development of Executive Functioning and Spoken Language Skills in Preschool-Aged Children With Cochlear Implants
Research has demonstrated that children with hearing loss may have difficulties learning language, but less is known about how other cognitive skills may be affected. In this study, children between 3-6 years old with typical hearing or who used cochlear implants were evaluated for their language and executive functioning skills once a year until they turned 7 years old. Executive function includes skills such as inhibition, working memory, and flexible thinking. They found that children with hearing loss had significantly lower language scores than the typically developing group during their first visit, but had significantly greater improvement in their language over time. Both groups performed in the average range on standardized assessments of executive functioning, but the hearing loss group performed significantly lower on parent-reported measures. They also found that language scores did not predict most measures of executive functioning, but executive functioning predicted performance on language tasks. This suggests that language and executive functioning are related, but that hearing loss may uniquely impact executive functioning outside of its effects on language development. Further studies should investigate the potential relationship between executive functioning and hearing loss to develop more targeted interventions for these skills.
The Implications of Parent‑Reported Emotional and Behavioral Problems on the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers
Waiting lists for autism diagnostic clinics are often multiple months long, and many clinics use brief screening tools to help identify which children are more likely to receive a diagnosis and therefore need a full evaluation. In this study, the authors explored the impact of emotional and behavioral problems on the scoring of a popular autism screening tool, the M-CHAT. Parents filled out the M-CHAT and a questionnaire evaluating their child’s behavioral and emotional problems, and then children were evaluated for an autism diagnosis. They found that, for 18-30 month olds, the M-CHAT did a better job at predicting autism when children lacked externalizing behaviors; however, in 31-48 month-olds, the M-CHAT did a poorer job at predicting autism for children without externalizing behaviors. This suggests that age and externalizing behaviors should be taken into account when administering screening tools such as the M-CHAT to better predict which children are in need of a full diagnostic evaluation.