Yawning Not Contagious in Young, Autistic

STORRS, Conn., Sept. 20 (UPI) — Contagious yawning — yawning after someone else does — is less likely in children under age 4 and those with autism spectrum disorders, U.S. researchers say.

Molly Helt and Inge-Marie Eigstis of the University of Connecticut and colleagues studied 120 typically developing children ages 1-6 and compared 30 children and teens ages 6-15 with autism spectrum disorders vs. two other groups of typically developing children with the same mental and chronological ages.

“Given that contagious yawning may be a sign of empathy, this study suggests that empathy — and the mimicry that may underlie it — develops slowly over the first few years of life, and that children with autism spectrum disorders may miss subtle cues that tie them emotionally to others,” the researchers say in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Child Development, also finds children with diagnoses that imply more severe autistic symptoms were much less likely to yawn contagiously than those with milder diagnoses.

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