Early Medical and Behavioral Characteristics of NICU Infants Later Classified With ASD
Objectives: Recent evidence suggests higher prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in NICU graduates. This aim of this study was to identify retrospectively early behaviors found more frequently in NICU infants who went on to develop ASD.
Methods: Twenty-eight NICU graduates who later received a diagnosis of ASD were compared with 2169 other NICU graduates recruited from 1994 to 2005. They differed in gender, gestational age, and birth cohort. These characteristics were used to draw a matched control sample (n = 112) to determine which, if any, early behaviors discriminated subsequent ASD diagnosis. Behavioral testing at targeted ages (adjusted for gestation) included the Rapid Neonatal Neurobehavioral Assessment (hospital discharge, 1 month), Arousal-Modulated Attention (hospital discharge, 1 and 4 months), and Bayley Scales of Infant Development (multiple times, 4–25 months).
Results: At 1 month, children with ASD but not control children had persistent neurobehavioral abnormalities and higher incidences of asymmetric visual tracking and arm tone deficits. At 4 months, children with ASD had continued visual preference for higher amounts of stimulation than did control children, behaving more like newborns. Unlike control children, children with ASD had declining mental and motor performance by 7 to 10 months, resembling infants with severe central nervous system involvement.
Conclusions: Differences in specific behavior domains between NICU graduates who later receive a diagnosis of ASD and matched NICU control children may be identified in early infancy. Studies with this cohort may provide insights to help understand and detect early disabilities, including ASD.
- outcomes of high-risk infants
- visual function
- cognitive and motor impairments
- Accepted May 13, 2010.
- Copyright © 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics