Videos of mothers and their infants interacting with each other may contain clues to autism risk. The unpublished results were presented Tuesday at the 2016 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego.
The emotional connection between a mother and her infant is normally present at birth, and vocal soothing, touching, comforting, holding, and making eye contact—behaviors commonly associated with “nurture” — have a profound impact on development and behavior. Studies have shown that they can help a child become more resilient to a broad range of mental, behavioral, and physical disorders, and that they play a role in the mother’s wellbeing, too.
Premature infants, loosely defined as babies born before 34 weeks gestation, arrive in a state of arrested development. The lungs, the heart, the digestive system, the eyes, the ears—and the brain—may not have reached their full potential when a preemie comes into the world. Lacking proper brain development, premature infants are at elevated risk for problems with learning, communication, emotional regulation, and social bonding. But new research suggests that an intervention that focuses on calm, physical bonding between mother and infant can promote the development, in both the brain and body, that was hindered by early birth, significantly improving long-term outcomes for preemies.
Infants born prematurely show alterations in the structure and function of their brain circuits — findings that hint at why they are at increased risk for autism. Researchers presented the unpublished results, from two independent long-term studies, at the 2015 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Chicago.
On any given day in associate professor of psychology Amie Hane’s Early Experience and Physiology lab, students are gathered around a TV monitor, reviewing video of mothers and tiny infants. They stop the recording every few seconds to take note of the slightest change in glance, touch, or tone of voice....
Martha Welch, MD, a graduate of the class of 1971 at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons was named a 2014 Alumni Gold Medalist in recognition of her “service to the alumni association and for excellence in clinical and medical research.”
Loving touch and physical proximity to other people wire the social brain right from the earliest days after birth, and problems in the response to touch may play a fundamental role in autism. This picture emerges from unpublished results presented by several teams at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, D.C.