MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — The Early Social Development and Interaction Lab at the Institute for Mind and Brain at the University of South Carolina is tracking the development of infants who are at-risk of being diagnosed with autism.

“Children who have siblings with autism or were born premature have a higher risk of being diagnosed with autism,” Dr. Jessica Bradshaw, director of the lab, said.

“We’re interested in identifying autism in even earlier toddlers and infants because we know that early intervention for autism is really important and really improves developmental outcomes,” Bradshaw said. “So, if we can identify autism within the first year of life, then the hope is that we can begin to develop behavioral interventions that work to improve the lives of children and individuals with autism and improve.“

Bradshaw said they see infants in the lab from the first days of life and follow them throughout the first two years.

“From birth to age two we’re looking at all kinds of behaviors. So, we’re interested in their attention to people and to objects, we’re interested in their play behaviors, we’re interested in their heart rate and their autonomic arousal to different types of stimuli in the environment,” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw said she sees infants as young as two through nine of age already showing differences and delays in their communication development.

”Things like using eye gaze, facial expression and gestures really early, they just weren’t doing it as much as they’re typically developing peers,” Bradshaw said.

She said that research programs are important because that is how they are going to advance the science of autism and learn how to better support individuals with autism.

“I think another advantage of research is just getting more clinical contact with experts. And so families who are in my study have frequent access to us and can really talk to us about their child and how they’re doing and not just their infant, but their older child with autism as well, for the full duration of the study two to three years. And so, I think it just provides a supportive community,” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw said the intention is never to get rid of the autism, it’s just to help individuals with autism. The world needs to do a better job supporting autistic families and realizing it’s just another way to live in this world.