Modelling trajectories of social and non-social development

PI: Professor Tony Charman (Institute of Education, University of London)
Funding: Bloomsbury Colleges Phd Scheme

This project involves analysis of some of the data gathered from the longitudinal study of infant siblings, in particular looking at how early social (e.g. looking at faces) and non-social (e.g. attention) behaviours and brain development relate to later social and non-social skills in toddlers. Using statistical models we will explore the developmental pathways of different groups of infants, those at high-risk for developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) due to having an older sibling with a diagnosis, and those at low-risk of developing ASD (having typically developing older siblings and no family history of the disorder). This project will also explore which early behaviours are related to the symptoms of ASD. There is evidence that genetic risk for ASD can result in brain and behaviour characteristics associated with ASD not only in affected individuals but also, to some degree, in genetic relatives (the so-called Broader Autism Phenotype, BAP). Although the BAP in young infants appears to be very subtle, by around 12 months differences in social behaviours and communication begin to emerge more clearly. By looking at the differences between the high-risk and low-risk groups of infant siblings, we will be able to investigate further the characteristics of the BAP.