Study: Head Lag in Infants Could Mean Autism
Findings from Kennedy Krieger study published
in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy
BETHESDA, MD—Delays in an infant’s motor control may be an early indicator for an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore examined the association between head lag—poor postural control during a pull-to-sit motion— and autism risk in a sample of 20 high-risk infants (siblings of children with autism) and 21 low-risk infants age 6 months, and a sample of 40 high-risk infants followed prospectively from 6 to 36 months of age.
Results of the study—titled “Head Lag in Infants at Risk for Autism: A Preliminary Study”—are published in the September/October 2012 issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
“A variety of skills contribute to a baby’s ability to have good head control,” said Joanne Flanagan, ScD, OTR/L, study author and occupational therapist at Kennedy Krieger. “Observing head control using a pull-to-sit task enables physicians and developmental experts to assess babies’ motor abilities, how well babies are making use of sensory input, how well babies are able to adapt and make postural adjustments when their bodies are changing positions, and how babies interact with another person.”
According to Rebecca Landa, PhD, senior study author and director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger, although head lag is not specific to ASD, it may be an early red flag that the nervous system is not developing appropriately in infants at high risk for autism. “The findings of this study may result in earlier screening and intervention aimed at minimizing disabilities in young children at high risk for autism,” said Landa. “More research is needed with comparison groups to determine the relationship between early motor and sensory abnormalities and core features of autism.”
Before the study, research already supported the idea that poor postural control in infants is a predictor of developmental disruption in cerebral palsy and preterm populations.
This research indicates that head lag with other alterations in early development may be associated with autism risk and may serve as an early indicator of neurodevelopmental disruption. The results have clinical implications for occupational therapists in early intervention practice.
According to the study, “Occupational therapists, in conjunction with speech-language therapists, physical therapists, and other professionals play an important role in early identification and intervention to address sensorimotor and social skills to improve participation of infants showing red flags. Additionally, occupational therapists may play an important role in research on early detection to identify infants exhibiting subtle early sensorimotor deficits that may affect subsequent development of play and social occupations.”
In addition to Landa and Flanagan at Kennedy Krieger, study authors were Anjana Bhat, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut; and Margaret Bauman, MD, founding director of the Lurie Center for Autism and associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital.
For more information about this study or to interview the study’s authors, contact AOTA Media Relations Manager Katie Riley at 301-652-6611, ext. 2963, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Journal of Occupational Therapy is the official journal of the American Occupational Therapy Association, which represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. It is a peer-reviewed publication focusing on research examining the effectiveness and efﬁciency of occupational therapy practice so that occupational therapy and other health care professionals can make informed, evidence-based decisions in their practice. AJOT publishes 6 times each year in print and online and has an additional online supplement at the end of each calendar year. Articles cover topics such as children and youth; mental health; rehabilitation, disability, and participation; productive aging; health and wellness; work and industry; education; and professional issues. Recent special issues include sensory processing and sensory integration, older drivers and community mobility, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, traumatic brain injury, and stroke. For more information, visit http://ajot.aotapress.net or www.aota.org.