Transactional analyses of early parent-child interaction and social communication development in typically developing children and those at risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder
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The transactional model (Sameroff, 1975) supports the notion that bidirectional influences of the child and his/her early caregiving environment have a profound impact on child development. Thus, it behooves researchers to consider child and parent characteristics, as well as parent-child dynamics, which might lead to more or less optimal developmental trajectories. This dissertation used a transactional approach to study synchrony during early childhood. In this collection of studies, synchrony is defined as the degree to which a parent’s nonverbal and verbal communication follows or redirects their child’s focus of attention and action during play (Siller & Sigman, 2002). Parent-child dyads engaged in an unstructured free play session with a standardized set of toys, which was later coded for Synchrony (Siller & Sigman, 2002, 2008). 1) The first study included typically developing toddlers and their mothers. It tested associations between synchrony and the Emotional Availability (EA) Scales (Biringen, 2008), and also explored associations between synchrony, EA, child temperament, and toddlers’ joint attention abilities. 2) The second study included mothers and typically developing infants. It longitudinally explored the stability of synchrony from 9 to 18 months and whether synchrony predicted individual differences in the development of joint attention from 9 to 18 months and language at 24 months. 3) The third study included mothers and infants with an older sibling with autism (sibs-ASD) or without autism (sibs-TD). It assessed whether certain parent and child characteristics (e.g., parenting stress, infant temperament) contribute to individual differences in synchrony at 12 and 15 months. This body of work helps to: establish the stability of synchrony in early childhood, distinguish synchrony and EA parent-child interaction measures, clarify how synchrony is related to the development of nonverbal and verbal communication, and identify certain parent and child factors that predict individual differences in synchrony.