Infants At Risk & Newly Diagnosed Toddlers
Categorization in Children & Adults With Autism -Study Completed
Associated Current Studies
Cognitive Enhancement Therapy
Autism Treatment Network
Autism Task Force Scientific Abstracts
Where Infants Look When Watching Faces
During the last few decades there has been an incredible
increase in our understanding of how mental or cognitive development
occurs throughout the first two years of life. The Infant and Toddler
Development Center (ITDC) has conducted critical research on many of
these important issues. It is now known that prior to language infants
are already actively learning about their worlds. Through interactions
with both people and objects, babies are making discoveries about the
physical properties of their environments (e.g. objects exist even if
you don’t see them)how to categorize objects (e.g. what are dogs
versus cats) and how to remember and recognize familiar people.
that autism begins within the first year of life. In order to both
diagnose the disorder early in life and to understand its impact on
development, we are studying babies who are at-risk for having the
disorder because they have an older sibling already diagnosed with an
autism spectrum disorder.
We are also
conducting research on the development of face perception and
recognition with children 3-4 years of age.
What We Want To Learn
Most research on
autism has focused on the social difficulties individuals with autism
encounter. Much less attention is being paid to underlying differences
of how individuals with autism think. Our work is focused on the
cognitive development of individuals with autism. Based on our previous
research with typically developing infants and young children, we know
that there are a number of important abilities that develop very early
and help guide the way children learn about both objects and people.
How We Do This
All of our studies involve relatively easy behavioral tests. The
children are told stories while watching a computer monitor and then are
asked to answer some very simple questions. Our infant research
procedures require the baby to look at pictures and movies while we
watch their eyes and record where they are looking. A new
“state-of-the-art” eye tracker allows us to record precisely where the
child is looking at a picture by having video cameras focus on the face.
Our nonverbal methods allow us to study very young children who have
just been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, who are nonverbal
or not yet speaking in sentences.
The research is being conducted on infants who are at risk for
developing autism in hopes that it may lead to the ability to diagnose
autism within the first year of life. This may allow us to better
understand how the disorder impacts development from the earliest ages.
The ITDC has published some of the first research showing that infants
are able to categorize objects, a skill critically important to learning
words and language. We have also learned that infants have a rudimentary
knowledge of quantities, a knowledge that ultimately helps children
understand how to count and learn mathematical knowledge. Finally, we
have conducted research on how infants learn to remember faces and
distinguish familiar people from strangers. As we better understand
these developmental differences between children with autism and
typically developing children, our lab is working to establish
interventional approaches to help improve the cognitive abilities of
children who have autism.