Learn more about your baby while changing the future of autism

Below are some of the most common questions expectant and new parents have about our infant study. We hope to answer all your pressing questions and explain what you have to gain by learning more about your baby during this critical time of development.

What’s the purpose of this research?

By observing how babies interact with the world, how their brains form and how they learn to talk, we hope to discover new ways to identify and treat infants at risk for autism. We’re particularly looking at the following components of a child’s development: 

  • Eye movement in infancy may give us insight into early diagnosis of autism. The technology used during this study includes cameras that focus on a child’s eye movements. As the child watches short, age-appropriate videos, our cameras record which part of the screen the child is watching. Typically developing children and children at risk for autism tend to focus on different parts of the video images. 
  • Social engagement with caregivers is a key factor in speech development. By recording children as they begin to talk during the first two years of life, our research tests whether social interaction in early infancy predicts speech and language outcomes. 
  • An infant’s brain develops rapidly in the first months of life. We want to examine how brain development may differ between typical infants and infants who are later diagnosed with autism using a safe, noninvasive MRI.
  • We provide early treatment for participants who have identified developmental delays by age 1. These combined efforts will help clinicians develop more effective treatments for children with autism.

Who can participate?

  • You must be pregnant or have a child 2 months old or younger.
  • Your baby must have an older biological sibling.
  • You must live within 35 miles of Marcus Autism Center.

How long does the study last and what is required?

Your baby is enrolled from birth until 30 months of age and will:

  • Be seen at Marcus Autism Center as many as 10 to 13 times over three years so that we can track changes in your baby’s development.
  • Receive developmental and language testing by expert clinicians.
  • Watch short, age-appropriate videos of people, objects and activities on a computer screen.
  • Receive an MRI at three of the visits, allowing us to take pictures of your baby’s brain while she is sleeping naturally. This equipment has been specifically designed to make infants feel cozy and comfortable. 

As a parent, we will ask you to:

  • Make day-long audio recordings of your child once every month in your home, using a small recording device worn in a specially designed romper. When you mail the recordings back to Marcus Autism Center, we will be able to analyze all the sounds your baby makes, or may hear in a day.
  • Complete surveys and interviews about your baby’s development and behavior.

What are the benefits of this study?

  • Throughout the study, expert clinicians will monitor your baby’s progress, and give support and direction.
  • If your baby shows signs of autism, your baby will be assigned to a treatment study that teaches important skills to help your child.
  • All parents will receive information about their child’s growth, development and milestones.

What is the cost? Will I be paid?

There is no cost to you to participate in the study. However, families will be compensated for their time and participation.

Do I have to enroll in every part of the study?

You can decide which parts of the study you want to take part in and you may withdraw at any time.

How often do I have to come in?

There are up to 13 total visits for this study over the course of your child’s first 3 years of life. Study visits are monthly for the first 6 months and then occur at 9, 12, 16, 21 and 30 months of age.

How long are the appointments?

Study visits range in length from 1 to 4 hours. Most visits are closer to 1 hour in length, with the longer visits occurring at 12, 21, and 30 months

What days of the week/times are appointments scheduled?

We offer visits Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. We do prefer the visits involving developmental assessments (e.g., 16, 21 and 30 months) to begin in the mornings when children are more alert, but all other visits can be scheduled at a convenient time of day for your family.

Will transportation be provided?

We are able to reimburse for travel expenses for families who experience barriers to participation. Transportation reimbursement will be considered on a case by case basis.

Can I bring my other children to the visit?

Yes, we provide free childcare for siblings of study participants.

What is an MRI? Is it safe?

MRI is a safe technique that is routinely used with people of all ages. MRI does not use harmful X-rays or radiation. Instead, it uses non-harmful magnetic fields to take pictures of the brain. These pictures help us understand the structure of the brain and what parts are active when we see, hear or do things.

I’ve read that screen time should be limited in the first two years. How much time will my baby spend watching movie clips?

We understand the concerns about screen time for young children and show children short, age-appropriate video clips lasting a total of 20-30 minutes per study visit.

Can I decide if I want to participate later? When is the cutoff for enrollment?

Newborns must be enrolled into the project by 2 months of age.

Will you share the results of the evaluations with my child’s doctor?

While we encourage families to discuss any feedback received from our developmental testing with your child’s doctors, we will only release clinical reports to caregivers. Our licensed providers will summarize any findings from standardized developmental testing, such as speech evaluations, into a developmental report so that your family may share these results with your providers as you wish.

Interested in helping us?

Complete the form or call 404-785-7600 to sign up.