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Chapman University , Orange , CA

Principal Investigators: Don Cardinal, Ph.D., Sally Young, Ph.D., Alan Fogel, Ph.D.

Engendering Change in the Movement and Communication Difficulties Experienced By Adults with Autism: A Dynamic Systems Approach Using Feldenkrais Movement Therapy

This study will evaluate the efficacy of Feldenkrais movement therapy as a tool to improve motor planning and function in people with the label of low-functioning autism.  By showing the potential for change in long-standing movement patterns, this study will provide a deeper understanding of movement and communication difficulties experienced by this group and of contextual elements that can support and engender the change process. All of these new understandings will be used to formulate more precise, experimental protocols in the future.

Don Cardinal

Fogel Infant Laboratory

Federation of Behavioral, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Science and Public Policy Seminars on Autism
Washington , DC

This was a series of Science and Public Policy seminars on autism, featuring Drs. Morton Gernsbacher, Geraldine Dawson, Edward Cook, and Margaret Bauman.   These events were co-sponsored by the National Alliance for Autism Research and the NLM Family Foundation.  Four separate talks were held on Capitol Hill and served to educate members of Congress and their staff about autism and the policy implications of some of the latest research.  This series concluded in June of 2002.

Federation of Behavioral, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences

Georgetown University, Center for the Study of Learning Washington , D.C.

Principal Investigator Thomas Zeffiro, Ph.D.

Ongoing Development of a Multi-channel Diffuse Optical Tomography System for Evaluation of Language and Communication Disorders

Diffuse optical tomography is a technique that uses interactions between light in the near-infrared part of the spectrum and blood components to allow non-invasive measurements of brain activity. Studies using this technology have demonstrated excellent sensitivity to subtle changes in brain blood oxygenation related to the performance of behavioral tasks involving language, perception and movement. Specifically, it has been possible to detect reliable and well-localized changes in brain activity while adult subjects performed voluntary finger movement and speech processing tasks. These results suggest that this technology could be scaled to systems that would allow simultaneous monitoring of the entire cortical surface. The NLM Family Foundation is supporting the development of an integrated non-invasive system to assess cortical brain activity involved in language and communication and is exploring possibilities of applying this technology to investigate communication difficulties experienced by those with autism.

Center for the Study of Learning

Thomas Zeffiro

Lesley University, Cambridge , MA

Opening Doors for People with Autism through the Arts

The purpose of the project is to include adults with autism in a program using the arts to increase the opportunities for social interaction and to expand the participants' repertoires of self-expression. Activities include visual arts, music, movement, and photography lessons. The program, run by Lesley University, affords people labeled with autism and typical adults, including graduate and undergraduate students, to interact together in a university setting while participating in learning about the arts.

Lesley University

New England Medical Center, Atlanta , GA
2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

Callaway Gardens Annual Autism Genetics Workshop

The purpose of the Callaway Gardens Annual Autism Genetics Workshop is to share unpublished data, ideas, and suggestions within the Autism Genetics Cooperative group, form limited collaborations for specific purposes, and generally spend 3½ days discussing how to find genes that predispose people to autism. This event was co-sponsored with National Alliance for Autism Research.

New England Medical Center

The Open University, The United Kingdom

Principal Investigator: Andrew Grayson, Ph.D.

Facilitated Communication: A Systematic Observational Research Project Involving Fine-Grained Video Analysis and Eye Tracking (funded through NAAR)

Facilitated communication (FC) is a strategy which aims to enhance communication skills by helping people learn to point or type. It is controversial when used by people with autism because it involves physical contact between the FC user and facilitator, making it difficult to determine who is responsible for the typing. Some peer-reviewed studies have concluded that the emergent language is being authored by the facilitator, while some speech and language professionals maintain that FC is a useful strategy.

This research will use fine-grained video analysis to measure typing-related behaviors in FC users and facilitators. By comparing the same FC users working with different facilitators, and facilitators working with different FC users, inferences about authorship can be drawn based on behavioral inconsistencies. If an FC user is typing, one would expect to see consistency in the way they type letters and words, irrespective of who is giving physical support. This project also explores the usefulness of eye-tracking technology as a means for enhancing understanding of FC. FC users will wear eye-tracking equipment while typing, which shows where they are looking at any given point in time.

Andy Grayson

Syracuse University, Facilitated Communication Institute, Syracuse , NY

Principal Investigator: Douglas Biklen, Ph.D.

The NLM Family Foundation has supported the Facilitated Communication Institute for several years.  Through the Core Funding Grant, the Strategic Planning Grant and the Lurie Scholarship Fund, the NLM Family Foundation supports the FC Institute's activities in facilitated communication training, documentation and demonstration, and reinitiates a strategic planning process to better focus the Institute for the next 5-10 years of work in the field of autism and inclusion. The Foundation also provided a grant to Dr. Biklen to support his work in collecting autobiographical accounts from people with autism who had been previously considered low functioning but now communicate fluently and some even independently with use of FC.  Dr. Biklen has written a book of autobiographical accounts of seven individuals with autism published in 2005, entitled Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone .

Doug Biklen

University of California at San Francisco , San Francisco , CA

Principal Investigator: Timothy P.L. Roberts, Ph.D.

Neural Correlates of Phonological Processing in Autism: A MEG Investigation. (funded through NAAR)

Individuals with autism may have abnormal development of expressive speech and impairments in auditory and speech perceptual processing. Little is known about cortical mechanisms underlying impaired language development in autism. This study uses magnetoencephalography (MEG) to non-invasively measure neural activity in auditory cortical sites in individuals with autism. This technique allows researchers to track neuronal activity with sub-millisecond temporal resolution. Previous work has provided evidence that early sensory processing of simple and complex sounds appears to be intact in individuals with autism. However, the pervasive nature of language deficits in autism indicates that linguistically relevant sound processing may nonetheless be impaired in this population. The researchers hypothesize that while early processing of acoustic signal appears normal in individuals with autism, later phonological processes that provide feature extraction, discrimination, and categorization necessary for decoding the speech signal may be disrupted. They will measure later stages of neural activity, including correlates of phonological processing with the aim of providing quantitative measures to assess the nature and cortical timing of language related sound processing abnormalities in autism.

Timothy Roberts

Weizmann Institute of Science , Israel

Principal Investigator: Henry Markram, Ph.D.

Altered Inhibitory Microcircuits in Autism (funded through NAAR)

These researchers believe that most of the deleterious neurological symptoms of autism, which can include distortions in perception, attention, memory, cognition, language, communication and social behavior, could come from a malfunction in the microcircuits of the neocortex. When the neocortex is excited by sensory stimulation or during higher cognitive processing, the excitation engages inhibitory mechanisms that command the sequence, spread and form of the evolution of electrical activity patterns. The operations of inhibitory microcircuits are central to normal perception, attention and memory that form the foundation for higher cognitive functions. With impaired inhibitory mechanisms, information processing at multiple levels will be profoundly affected. The researchers believe that altered inhibitory microcircuits could be the common denominator in autism spectrum disorders. Alterations in perception, attention and memory processes to different degrees, in different forms and in different regions of the neocortex could give rise to many autistic-like syndromes. They explore principles of recruiting and applying inhibition in the neocortex, their alterations in animal models of autism and plasticity of these inhibitory microcircuits. This project could indicate new directions for retraining inhibitory microcircuits to reinstate normal cognitive functions.

Department of Neurobiology - Weizmann Institute of Science


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