Synchrony, early development and psychopathology

Dys-synchrony, an early marker of ASD in west syndrome?

From birth, infants experience many mental states during the day, including sound sleep, strong screaming, crying, and mindful and calm arousal periods in reaction to their social environment; these mental states are called “awareness”. Maternal stimulation contributes to the modulation of awareness states and has cognitive implications, allowing the child to explore his family environment. Early interactions are characterized by synchronies between infant and caregiver. The two partners reciprocally adapt using gaze, head and hand position, and language; typically, very young babies can take an active and leading role in these interactions. Studying home movies of infants who will later develop autism, we showed that (i) synchronic and reciprocal behaviors between infant and caregiver were able to differentiate infants with a pathological development from typical developing infants as early as the first 6 months of life (Saint-Georges et al., 2012); (ii) parents tried to engage with more emotional interactions with their children (Cohen et al., 2013). Therefore, the early detection of autism should benefit from the concepts of synchrony and early reciprocity, as well as from emotional engagement during interaction.

The current work package will test this hypothesis on West syndrome (WS, or infantile spasm), both using clinical and social signal processing tools. WS is a rare epileptic encephalopathy occurring early in life, and is caused by a brain abnormality or damage in 60% to 90% of cases (e.g. Tuberous Sclerosis; lack of oxygen at birth). Fifty percent of children develop intellectual disability (ID) and/or ASD. Given the risk of ASD, WS defines a high-risk group. Our aim is to assess whether synchrony parameters during the first year of life can predict autism in at-risk infants with WS in the context of an ongoing longitudinal study.