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Caregiver sensitivity predicts infant language use, and infant language complexity predicts caregiver language complexity, in the context of possible emerging autism

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posted on 2023-07-26, 06:48 authored by Jodie SmithJodie Smith, Lacey Chetcuti, Lyndel KennedyLyndel Kennedy, KJ Varcin, V Slonims, Catherine BentCatherine Bent, J Green, Teresa IaconoTeresa Iacono, S Pillar, C Taylor, MW Wan, AJO Whitehouse, Kristelle HudryKristelle Hudry
While theory supports bidirectional effects between caregiver sensitivity and language use, and infant language acquisition—both caregiver-to-infant and also infant-to-caregiver effects—empirical research has chiefly explored the former unidirectional path. In the context of infants showing early signs of autism, we investigated prospective bidirectional associations with 6-min free-play interaction samples collected for 103 caregivers and their infants (mean age 12-months; and followed up 6-months later). We anticipated that measures of caregiver sensitivity/language input and infant language would show within-domain temporal stability/continuity, but also that there would be predictive associations from earlier caregiver input to subsequent child language, and vice versa. Caregiver sensitive responsiveness (from the Manchester Assessment of Caregiver–Infant interaction [MACI]) predicted subsequent infant word tokens (i.e., amount of language, coded following the Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts [SALT]). Further, earlier infant Mean Length of Utterance (MLU; reflecting language complexity, also derived from SALT coding) predicted later caregiver MLU, even when controlling for variability in infant ages and clear within-domain temporal stability/continuity in key measures (i.e., caregiver sensitive responsiveness and infant word tokens; and infant and caregiver MLU). These data add empirical support to theorization on how caregiver input can be both supportive of, and potentially influenced by, infant capacities, when infants have social-communication differences and/or communication/language delays suggestive of possible emerging autism.


We would like to thank the families for their participation. Collection of primary data for this study was supported by funding from the La Trobe University Understanding Disease Research Focus Area, Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (AutismCRC), Western Australian Children's Research Fund, and Angela Wright Bennett Foundation. Aspects of novel data coding analyzed and reported here were undertaken towards a Bachelor of Psychology Honours research thesis by Lyndel Kennedy. Andrew Whitehouse is supported by an Investigator Grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (APP1173896). Jonathan Green is a UK National Institute for Health Research Senior Investigator. The views expressed are those of the authors, and the funders of investigators and the trial and the trial sponsor have had no role in the study design, manuscript drafting or decision to submit for publication. Open access publishing facilitated by La Trobe University, as part of the Wiley - La Trobe University agreement via the Council of Australian University Librarians.


Publication Date



Autism Research






(p. 745-756)





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© 2022 The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.