My primary research interests lie in examining the functional neurobiology and development of information processing and memory in individual with typical development, autism spectrum disorders, and other developmental disorders. I use EEG, event-related potentials (ERPs), eye tracking, and behavioral measures to study how children learn about visual images in their environment, such as faces, and how that learning is impacted by developmental disruptions.
My current work covers several areas including (1) attention, perceptual and cognitive abilities in individuals with developmental disabilities including autism, Fragile X, and developmental delay; (2) early risk markers and protective factors in children with cognitive and social delay; and (3) prediction of response to intervention. These projects represent an effort to understand the neural circuits that contributing to and underlie atypical development.
In the UW Autism Center of Excellence Project “Early Connections”, we are identifying neurophysiological risk indices for autism spectrum disorder in children at high genetic risk or low genetic risk for autism and assessing whether it is possible to alter risk processes and family functioning via early intervention. Infant siblings of children with autism have relatively higher rates of autism related symptoms than infants without a familial history of ASD. One of the NIH Road-map for Autism goals is to identify infants at higher risk for developing autism via behavioral and/or biological markers. By identifying infants at an early age, when the brain is developing and before core autism symptoms have emerged, it might be possible to alter the developmental trajectory of children at risk for the disorder and have a significant impact on long-range outcome.
In the “Eye Gaze Processing in Fragile X and Autism” Project, this pilot study will demonstrate the feasibility of utilizing electrophysiological measures to characterize endophenotypes in Fragile X and Autism by focusing on a common area of behavioral impairment – eye gaze processing. Specifically, this project focuses on the neural correlates of eye gaze perception in individuals with Autism and FXS, and associated social processing, including social responsiveness and anxiety. This proposal represents a small step in initiating studies to better understand the shared and divergent neurologic underpinnings of the two disorders as well as to expand our knowledge about the psychophysiology of FXS.
In the “SPARCS” Study (Physiology of Attention and Regulation in Children with ASD), we have proposed that there are common underlying behavioral and physiological mechanisms that contribute to spatial and feature attention, regulatory control, and joint attention, which are critical to the development of social-communication. In Autistic Spectrum Disorders abnormalities in these early developing systems, specifically the processes that control attention, contribute to the failure to develop joint attention skills and are related to slowed social-communication growth during early childhood. To address this model, we propose three parallel projects to examine the contribution of behavioral and physiological mechanisms of attention and regulatory control to social-communication functioning in children with ASD and neurotypical development.
For more information about these research studies and other opportunities, please contact me at 206-616-7021 or visit our research page at http://depts.washington.edu/pbslab/Research/Research.html