As a possible pathway to earlier diagnosis, Choi is examining forms of communication, specifically hand gestures. Although researchers have long studied gesturing in preverbal children, less is known about gesturing in high-risk populations. Working in the Boston Children’s Hospital Lab of Cognitive Neuroscience, directed by Professor Charles Nelson, Choi has been able to study a cohort of infants at high risk for developing autism.
“We found that high-risk infants produce fewer gestures, and that infants with fewer gestures at age 1 were later found to have more language difficulties by age 2 and were more likely to receive autism diagnoses,” says Choi.
Even in the hands of a skilled clinician, says Nelson, reliably diagnosing autism in children under two years of age is next to impossible. “April has convincingly shown that before the infant’s first birthday they are already showing early motor signs of the disorder,” he says. “If April’s work can be replicated with a larger sample size and perhaps in low-risk infants as well, it may well pave the way for clinicians to identify infants who will develop autism before their first birthday.”
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