Fine motor skill predicts expressive language in infant siblings of children with autism


Address for correspondence: Eve Sauer LeBarton, Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA; e-mail:


We investigated whether fine motor and expressive language skills are related in the later-born siblings of children with autism (heightened-risk, HR infants) who are at increased risk for language delays. We observed 34 HR infants longitudinally from 12 to 36 months. We used parent report and standardized observation measures to assess fine motor skill from 12 to 24 months in HR infants (Study 1) and its relation to later expressive vocabulary at 36 months in HR infants (Study 2). In Study 1, we also included 25 infants without a family history of autism to serve as a normative comparison group for a parent-report fine motor measure. We found that HR infants exhibited fine motor delays between 12 and 24 months and expressive vocabulary delays at 36 months. Further, fine motor skill significantly predicted expressive language at 36 months. Fine motor and expressive language skills are related early in development in HR infants, who, as a group, exhibit risk for delays in both. Our findings highlight the importance of considering fine motor skill in children at risk for language impairments and may have implications for early identification of expressive language difficulties.