ESDI Lab at UofSC Working For Earlier Diagnosis of Autism

This post is sponsored by the Early Social Development and Intervention (ESDI) Lab at UofSC.

earlier diagnosis of autism

Did you know changes in the brain within the first year of life can predict behavior 1-2 years later? 

Here at the Early Social Development and Intervention (ESDI) Lab at UofSC, we are pushing the needle for earlier diagnosis of autism. Our lab is led by Dr. Jessica Bradshaw, a psychologist and autism researcher who studies early identification and intervention for autism spectrum disorders within the first year of life. You may have seen this cutting edge research in the news lately, as Dr. Bradshaw was recently featured through WYFF4 News!. Click here to watch the story!

Currently, children with autism cannot be behaviorally diagnosed until 2-3 years of age. However, emerging research indicates the presence of certain biomarkers in infancy that may predict an autism diagnosis. By identifying early biological and behavioral processes that predict the emergence of social communication disorders, Dr. Bradshaw hopes to develop frameworks for very early intervention for infants. In other words, if we can learn how to diagnose infants at a very young age, this could help promote early intervention within the first year of life when infant neuroplasticity is at its peak! This could help to promote early social and language development for infants at risk, and even prevent some of the most challenging behaviors in ASD. 


Interested in getting involved? 

We are currently enrolling families for our Infant Study where we monitor the development of infants with an older sibling with autism. According to a study at the Yale School of Medicine, younger siblings of children with autism have a 20% likelihood of developing autism themselves. Dr. Katarzyna Chawarska, a professor and lead researcher with the Yale Child Study Center states that “While the majority of siblings of children with ASD will not develop the condition themselves, for those who do, one of the key priorities if finding more effective ways of identifying and treating them as early as possible.” This is what our current infant study aims to do. 

Our participants come into the lab for 1.5 – 2-hour sessions where we provide detailed developmental assessments. This includes us tracking infants’ attention and heart rate while they watch short videos and interact with their caregivers. We also have questionnaires for the caregivers to fill out either before or during the visit.

Caregivers receive close monitoring of their infants through the first 2-3 years of their infants’ life, free developmental feedback, an early autism screening at 24 months, and a $25 gift card after each visit (with the option to earn up to $300!). If there are any concerns present with the infants’ development, we also work to connect families with early intervention services and other resources in the community. 

autism infant study

Now, you may be wondering… “Who can participate?” 

Right now, we are accepting families with infants from the following three categories: 

  1. Infants under 6 months of age, born full term, with an older sibling with autism
  2. Infants under 4 months of age born preterm (between 30 – 36 weeks) 
  3. Infants under 4 months of age with typically developing siblings 

We can see infants as young as 1-week-old for the first visit, and continue to see them at different months through the first 2-3 years of life. 

Interested in participating, but not sure about the commute to Columbia? 

We also provide options for home visits for certain families. Contact us to discuss these options! 


What are the next steps?

Families can sign up to participate by filling this form through our website.  We will contact YOU to discuss any additional questions and discuss current eligibility. 


Don’t qualify for this study, but interested in other research opportunities? 

In addition to this infant study, we have a number of other research opportunities available through the University to support children and families affected by autism and other special needs. If you have a child with autism, but are not eligible for this current infant study, fill out this survey to be contacted about additional opportunities. Even if you don’t have a child with autism, still fill it out!  Your participation may still be needed to support this important research.  You can also find the survey here:


On behalf of the entire Early Social Development and Intervention Lab, thank you for helping us make this research possible. Our hope is that this will help change the lives of children and families with special needs in years to come.  Please share with anyone who may be interested or benefit from these opportunities!

P.S. Want to help us with recruitment? Join our REF (Research Empowering Families) Recruitment Club by signing up here. You’ll receive information on all things related to recruitment, outreach, free childcare opportunities, and special events… just for REF members!


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