Studies with infant siblings of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have attempted to identify early markers for the disorder and suggest that autistic symptoms emerge between 12 and 24 months of age. Yet, a reliable first-year marker remains elusive. We propose that in order to establish first-year manifestations of this inherently social disorder, we need to develop research methods that are sufficiently socially demanding and realistically interactive. Building on Keemink et al. [2019, Developmental Psychology, 55, 1362-1371], we employed a gaze-contingent eye-tracking paradigm in which infants could interact with face stimuli. Infants could elicit emotional expressions (happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, anger) from on-screen faces by engaging in eye contact. We collected eye-tracking data and video-recorded behavioural response data from 122 (64 male, 58 female) typically developing infants and 31 infant siblings (17 male, 14 female) aged 6-, 9- and 12-months old. All infants demonstrated a significant Expression by AOI interaction (F(10, 1470) = 10.003, P < 0.001, ŋ = 0.064). Infants' eye movements were "expression-specific" with infants distributing their fixations to AOIs differently per expression. Whereas eye movements provide no evidence of deviancies, behavioural response data show significant aberrancies in reciprocity for infant siblings. Infant siblings show reduced social responsiveness at the group level (F(1, 147) = 4.10, P = 0.042, ŋ = 0.028) and individual level (Fischer's Exact, P = 0.032). We conclude that the gaze-contingency paradigm provides a realistically interactive experience capable of detecting deviancies in social responsiveness early, and we discuss our results in relation to subsequent infant sibling development. LAY SUMMARY: We investigated how infant siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder respond to interactive faces presented on a computer screen. Our study demonstrates that infant siblings are less responsive when interacting with faces on a computer screen (e.g., they smile and imitate less) in comparison to infants without an older sibling with autism. Reduced responsiveness within social interaction could potentially have implications for how parents and carers interact with these infants.
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