Understanding the role and function of maternal touch in children with neurodevelopmental disabilities

Livio Provenzi, Elisa Rosa, Eleonora Visintin, Eleonora Mascheroni, Elena Guida, Anna Cavallini, Rosario Montirosso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the first years of life, maternal touch can serve different functions including facilitation of child's gaze orientation to faces which is a key precursor for social attention. Although children with neurodevelopmental disability (ND) may have reduced social skills, the role of maternal touch in contributing to gaze orientation to maternal face has not been explored in previous research. In the present study, we investigate the functions of maternal touch in dyads of mothers and children with ND, compared to dyads of children with typical development (TD). Micro-analytic 2-s coding of maternal touch (i.e., affectionate, playful, facilitating, holding, no touch) and children's gaze orientation (i.e., mother-oriented, object-oriented, non-oriented) occurred during 5-minute interactions between mothers and their 12-to-24-month-old ND and TD children. Dyads were paired for children chronological age and sex. Mothers of children with ND used more touch – especially facilitating and holding types –, compared to mothers of TD peers. Children with ND exhibited more non-orientated gaze compared to TD counterparts. Playful touch associated with increased mother-oriented gaze in children with ND, whereas affectionate and holding touch associated with greater mother-oriented gaze in TD children. Findings suggest that specific types of touch support children's attention to social partners.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101420
Number of pages12
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Gaze orientation
  • Maternal touch
  • Mother-child interaction
  • Neurodevelopmental disability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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