Quantifying infant social responsiveness: Microanalysis of home videos of a set of triplets for early indications of autism




Gerwing, Jennifer

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The first objective in this dissertation was to use microanalysis and a dyadic approach to investigate infant social responsiveness. Therefore, I developed a method that used a projective pairs framework: Parental social actions towards infants (i.e., overtures) projected particular infant behaviours. I analyzed whether infant behaviours following these overtures matched what the overture had projected; if they matched, the infant’s behaviours were a response. The data were one family’s home videos of their triplet infants (two males, one female), filmed when the infants were 6 to 15 months old. When the triplets were approximately three years old, clinical assessment indicated that one of the males had Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which impairs an individual’s social behaviors. The second objective here was to test whether the projective pairs framework would reveal early social deficits in the infant with ASD. This result would hold potential for earlier diagnosis (and thus earlier intervention). Researchers have used home videos to look for signs of ASD retrospectively, but these studies have been vulnerable to variability in the data, and often analyses of infant social behaviours did not connect these behaviours to their social, dyadic context. In this dissertation, the home videos were from one family; therefore the data were more homogeneous, and the projective pairs framework preserved the immediate context. The data for Study I were 23 minutes of excerpts (infants’ age 11-15 months). The microanalysis focused on overall infant responsiveness (i.e., the number of times each infant responded over the number of overtures that infant received). The infant with ASD was significantly less responsive than his two siblings. The data for Study II were all of the family’s home videos from when the infants were 6-15 months old (approximately 6 hours). Study II included (1) an exploration of specific functions of overtures (e.g., greeting the infant, getting the infant’s attention), and (2) an analysis of infant behaviours preceding overtures (e.g., looking at the parent, actively engaged elsewhere). The findings from Study II replicated Study I, they also painted a more complex picture. First, like his siblings, the infant with ASD responded to all non-social overtures, almost all helping overtures (e.g., taking a bottle that the parent had passed), and approximately half of overtures that served to seek his attention or to tell him to do something. Second, the infant with ASD was significantly less responsive to parental overtures that were more ambiguous (e.g., playing with the infant, narrating the infant’s actions). Third, regardless of the overture’s function, the infant with ASD was more likely to respond if he had looked at the parent immediately before the overture or if the overture included his name. A dyadic approach to the microanalysis of infant responsiveness identified those social interactions in which (1) the infant with ASD was as responsive as his siblings; (2) the infant with ASD was significantly less responsive than his siblings; and (3) the infant with ASD was the most responsive.



parent-infant interaction, microanalysis, communication, autism