High-Risk Infants With Insecure Attachment Are at Greater Risk for Autism, According to New Research
In a study published this month, researchers at the University of Miami identified a strong behavioral signal to identify which infants with an older sibling with autism are at high risk of being diagnosed themselves. According to the study, infants who exhibit an “insecure-resistant attachment” to parents are 9 times more likely to receive an autism diagnosis by age three than high-risk infants with secure attachments.
According to a report on the study by PsychCentral.com, infants with insecure-resistant attachments explore less and are not often comforted by their parents return or attempts at soothing them. While the researchers have said that early detection of an insecure-resistant attachment won’t prevent an autism diagnosis, it can lead to interventions that will help infants diagnosed with autism achieve more secure social relationships. Katherine Martin, the lead author of the study, said it suggests that high-risk infants with insecure-resistant attachments should receive interventions focused on sensitizing parents to social and emotional communication behaviors. “This would hopefully be a means to decreasing resistant attachment behaviors and lowering the obstacles to acquiring social competencies, which are already impaired in children with autism,” Martin explained. The new study builds on research by psychology professor Daniel Messinger, who also guided Martin while she conducted the current study as a Ph.D. candidate. Messinger’s previous research found that about one in five infants whose siblings have autism will be diagnosed with autism themselves. At the same time, Messinger and his students found that high-risk infants were not more likely to be classified as insecurely-attached to a parent than siblings of typically developing children. For the new study, the researchers evaluated the attachment security of 95 infants who were classified into four different attachment classifications at 15-months old. The researchers then looked for a link between each infant’s attachment style and their autism diagnosis, or absence of one, when the child reached 3-years-old. 16 of the 95 babies were high-risk infants who eventually developed autism; 40 were high-risk infants who did not develop autism; and 39 were low-risk infants who did not develop autism either.
Ultimately, the researchers found that high-risk infants with insecure-resistant attachments were 9 times more likely to receive an autism diagnosis than high-risk infants with secure attachments. The study’s findings were published in the journal Developmental Science. “There are a lot of questions about when early indications of autism emerge, and this is a pretty strong risk signal at 15 months among infants who have an older sibling with ASD,” Messinger was quoted as saying by Psych Central.com.
“And while we can’t stop a future ASD diagnoses, this suggests we should also consider attachment-related interventions for high-risk infants who show insecurity,” he added. “We don’t do that at all right now.”