Neural and behavioural indices of face processing in siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD): A longitudinal study from infancy to mid-childhood.
Impaired face processing is proposed to play a key role in the early development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to be an endophenotypic trait which indexes genetic risk for the disorder. However, no published work has examined the development of face processing abilities from infancy into the school-age years and how they relate to ASD symptoms in individuals with or at high-risk for ASD. In this novel study we investigated neural and behavioural measures of face processing at age 7 months and again in mid-childhood (age 7 years) as well as social-communication and sensory symptoms in siblings at high (n = 42) and low (n = 35) familial risk for ASD. In mid-childhood, high-risk siblings showed atypical P1 and N170 event-related potential correlates of face processing and, for high-risk boys only, poorer face and object recognition ability compared to low-risk siblings. These neural and behavioural atypicalities were associated with each other and with higher social-communication and sensory symptoms in mid-childhood. Additionally, more atypical neural correlates of object (but not face) processing in infancy were associated with less right-lateralised (more atypical) N170 amplitudes and greater social-communication problems in mid-childhood. The implications for models of face processing in ASD are discussed.