The purpose of this study was to identify behavioral characteristics of young children at risk for autism to determine if these characteristics can be used by pediatricians to initiate a referral for further evaluation for autism. As early identification of children with autism is crucial for the provision of early intervention and thereby improved outcomes, this has important implications for community-based practice. The parent-child interactions of 33 participants were coded for specific child behaviors including: looking at face (eye contact), directed affect, and the initiation of joint attention. Results showed that the use of social behaviors, specifically directed affect and joint attention, were significantly lower in children at risk for autism spectrum disorder. Most importantly though is the finding that this decreased use was evident in all of the children with autism spectrum disorders during only ten minutes of parent-child interaction, suggesting that social abnormalities can be detected by providers in a short period of time so that children can be referred for further evaluation .
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