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GRANTS FUNDED IN 2008



Asperger's Association of New England, Watertown, MA
2008


Support Towards the Asperger's Association of New England's Adult Conference: Know Thyself: The Key to a Better Life 2008

The Foundation is providing support for the Asperger's Association of New England's Adult Conference: Know Yourself: The Key to a Better Life 2008. This full-day conference is exclusively for adults with Asperger Syndrome (AS) and will be held on Saturday, July 26 th at Bentley College in Waltham , Massachusetts . The conference has many purposes including: Building community among a marginalized population of adults with Asperger Syndrome; Decreasing isolation and loneliness; Increasing connection and sense of belonging; Teaching concrete skills and strategies to improve quality of life at home, in relationships, and in the workplace; and instilling a sense of pride among AS adults by increasing awareness of the breadth of talent and level of accomplishment within their community which is filled with scientists, writers, artists, musicians, engineers and activists. The keynote speaker will be Valerie Paradiz, Ph.D., well-known author of Elijah's Cup and parent of a teen with AS who has since been diagnosed with AS herself. She is an inspiration to those who see Asperger Syndrome as a neurobiological difference instead of a disorder.

Asperger's Association of New England 




Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center , Boston , MA

2008

Principal Investigator: Gottfried Schlaug , MD , Ph.D.

 

Using Melodic Intonation to Facilitate Improvement in Language and Communication Skills in Autistic Children

 

One characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), perhaps the most heartbreaking, is the deficiency in communication skills. Unfortunately, interventions aimed at improving verbal output and/or communication skills are relatively few and have had limited success. However, since autistic children who often respond to music better than spoken language enjoy engaging in music-making, treatment methods that use music-based activities may provide an effective alternative or complement to traditional interventions for facilitating speech. The observation that many autistic children can sing, even when unable to speak, is strikingly similar to the disassociation seen in patients with Broca's aphasia who can sing the lyrics of a song better than they can speak the same words. Using a rehabilitative technique, Melodic Intonation Therapy, (MIT), that emphasizes the prosodic quality of speech through slow, pitched vocalizations (singing), has lead to significant improvement in speech production in such non-fluent aphasic patients. Since singing requires neural coupling of sounds with motor actions (e.g., production of sound (singing/speaking) depends upon the motor action of articulation), it is possible that MIT is capable of specifically engaging a 'hearing/doing' network, and thus, may offer an alternative therapeutic option for improving language and communication skills in ASD children. One case-report of the effects of MIT on an autistic 3-year old who had made no improvement after 1 year of verbal and sign language treatment, showed that after undergoing an adapted MIT program, he was capable of speaking in 2-word sentences. This project will use this music-based speech intervention (MIT) to build upon the musical strengths observed in autistic individuals and facilitate communication skills in children with ASD.


Gottfried Schlaug



Camp Yavneh– Hebrew Teachers College Camp & Summer School, Newton, MA
2008


Family Camp for Families Affected by Autism


In May 2009, Camp Yavneh will open an annual 5-day Family Camp for Families Affected by Autism. Yavneh's program for those on the autism spectrum will be unique. There is a great need in the Jewish community for ways to integrate families affected by autism into the mainstream of the Jewish and general community. This need is particularly acute in the more traditional segments of the community, which, in addition to the issues related to autism, have specific needs regarding religious observance that are not accommodated by existing programs. Yavneh's Family Camp program will integrate families from the entire spectrum of the Jewish community, while providing a supportive environment for such families. This will provide a vital respite for caregivers in families affected by autism, integrated programs for children on the autism spectrum with their siblings and parents, and an entrée for such families into the mainstream community. Yavneh hopes to create a program that can serve as a model and be replicated in communities throughout North America.

Camp Yavneh



Centro Studi Sulla Comunicazione Facilitata, Italy

2008

Principal Investigator: Alda Scopesi, Mirella Zanobini

 

Linguistic Interactions of Autistic Boys in Different Facilitated Contexts

 

An important area of autism research concerns the evaluation of communicative abilities and the effectiveness of interventions aimed at promoting these competences. Different methods have been developed to improve verbal language or provide alternative or augmentative instruments of communication. Facilitated Communication (FC) is a technique for providing support to subjects with poor or inexistent verbal abilities as they convey typed messages. After a long and lively debate on the validity of FC, in recent years specific guidelines have been created to allow a progressive increase in the facilitated subjects' initiatives and spontaneous pointing, with the aim of total independency. This research project is inserted into the debate relative to linguistic abilities of autistic people, with particular reference to analysis of stylistic, semantic and lexical peculiarities of written texts produced with the support of FC. A psycholinguistic analysis can contribute indirectly to the debate on the authorship and effectiveness of the facilitated production. Furthermore, it could represent an opportunity to understand autistic people's subjectivity.

This study analyses the linguistic interactions of autistic boys - who need a minimal level of physical support - in different facilitated contexts, with the aim of exploring:
. the presence of original expressions and typical linguistic characteristics, potentially indicative of the relative linguistic independence and authorship of the facilitated writings;
. the presence of semantic and stylistic peculiarities, with particular reference to the psychological lexicon of people with autism;
. the nature and development of the dialogue between the facilitated and facilitator and the influence of the facilitator's characteristics on the facilitated language in general and in particular on the use of the psychological lexicon.



The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia , Philadelphia , PA

2008-2011

Principal Investigator: Timothy Roberts, MD

Neonatal Biomagnetometer (Co-Funded with the Lurie Family Foundation)

In partnership with the Lurie Family Foundation, the NLM Family Foundation has provided funding to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for the purchase of a Neonatal Biomagnetometer, a magnetoencephalography (MEG) system that provides non-invasive, 4-dimensional imaging of human brain function necessary to detect developmental disorders. When installed, this system will serve as the world's first dedicated infant-MEG system serving children 18 months to two years, thereby providing better opportunities for successful, appropriate interventions to occur at an earlier age. This technology conducts passive recordings of "brain waves" during rest or stimulation through finger-tapping, sounds, and pictures. A typical scan of the brain may take less than one hour. MEG measures small electrical currents inside the neurons of the brain and generates an accurate representation of the magnetic fields produced by the neurons. Developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and learning disabilities, exploit the ability of MEG to track deficits in rapid temporal processing. This helps identify when and where in the brain and at what stage of linguistic complexity deviations from typical development occur, providing physicians with better opportunities to treat children with the most appropriate form of care. In addition to providing physicians with the best insight into the exact location of abnormalities that cause epilepsy and seizure disorders, the MEG also provides state-of-the-art, pre-surgical mapping for brain tumors and vascular malformations so that surgery can be planned in an effort to minimize postoperative weakness or loss of brain function.

Click here to read the NLMFF Interview with Dr. Roberts

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia



Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore , MD

2008

 

Principal Investigator: Barry Gordon, MD, Ph.D.

 

Subclinical Communications and Vocalizations in Autism: Investigation by Video/Audio Surveillance, Eye Movements, and Evoked Potentials

 

Many individuals affected by autism never seem to be able to speak or to understand speech. Yet their families and therapists often suspect that such individuals "know" more than they can express, despite the skepticism of those who do not know the individual as well. This may be because such individuals actually do have internal thoughts, even internal "speech" of some kind, but they appear to be oblivious and mute because their communicative efforts are so fleeting or atypical that they are not recognized, except by people familiar with their behavior. In this study, the investigator will apply four accepted and rigorous objective methods to try to determine if such individuals can "know" more than they seem to know, and can "express" more than they can express through traditional routes. The four methods are: 1) intensive audio-video surveillance; (2) eye movement recording; (3) pupillary diameter monitoring; and (4) electrical activity recorded through the scalp, analyzed looking for a particular wave (the N400 wave). Phase 1 of this research will attempt to establish the validity of the different measures by examining what they show in individuals with autism who can speak and communicate. Phase 2 will try to determine if a different set of participants, individuals with autism who have little or no speech, show some types of comprehension or expression on any or all of these measures in the course of trying to learn picture-word associations. If this research is successful to any degree, it would help motivate more concerted efforts to try to detect such abilities in individuals with autism who have little or no speech. Perhaps more importantly, this research would help to justify more aggressive efforts to explore alternative ways for such individuals to comprehend and to express themselves.


Barry Gordon



Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Boston, MA
2008


Establishment and Support of the Autism Special Education Legal Support Center

The goal of this project is to provide training, technical assistance, and advocacy services necessary to ensure that children with autism receive equal educational opportunities. Goals include: Providing parents with information about state-of-the-art services and programs available to meet individual needs of students with disabilities; Insuring that children with autism receive special education services necessary to reach their potential in areas impacted by their disability; Increasing public awareness and understanding of the potential and competency of individuals with autism, targeting policy makers, media, educators, service providers, as well as the general public. The Autism Special Education Legal Support Center will accomplish these goals by: providing community-based workshops for parents, educators, and medical professionals regarding legal rights and range of service options available for children with autism; providing a hotline to give legal and technical assistance to families of children with autism; training attorneys to increase representation of low-income students with autism to ensure that children receive legally mandated special education services; and providing information to the media, the legislature, and other policy makers regarding changes necessary to ensure children with autism receive services that reflect their potential.

Click here to read the NLMFF Interview with Massachusetts Advocates for Children

Massachusetts Advocates for Children



Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

2008

Principal Investigator: Rosalind Picard, Sc.D.

 

Computerized Interventions to Promote Verbal Expression in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

 

This project is a collaborative effort between Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Media Laboratory (ML)-an interdisciplinary research lab at the forefront of creating new technologies for improving the human experience, and the Groden Center, Inc.-a non-profit school in Providence, RI that provides community-based, evaluative, therapeutic, and educational programs for children and adults with ASD-to develop computerized intervention technologies that assist individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in understanding and producing verbal expressions that carry much of the communicative and emotional information in language. The intervention consists of two innovative technology components: (1) a wearable speech recorder that integrates with a wearable camera to record faces and speech in dyadic interactions, and (2) an interactive, computerized game that facilitates the visualization, and manipulation of speech characteristics, as well as conversational dynamics. The interactive game extracts and maps speech characteristics to alternative sensory channels such as visual or auditory feedback, catering to the visual and auditory strengths of persons with ASD. This yearlong research plan consists of the following three aims: (1) Collect a speech corpus documenting dyadic conversations between 10 individuals with ASD at the Groden Center and their staff members; (2) Apply and extend speech-feature extraction and classification toolkits to the speech corpus of individuals with ASD; (3) Conduct participatory and experimental evaluation sessions with 10 students at the Groden Center, their teachers, parents, and speech-language therapists to iteratively test and refine the wearable and interactive, computerized toolkit. This project aims to improve social communication capacities of persons with ASD, as well as enable speech-language therapists, teachers, and parents to assess and teach verbal expression in a novel and fun way that is individually-tailored for each person's interest, sensory, and perceptual capabilities.

Rosalind Picard



Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, Cambridge , MA

2008-2010

Principal Investigators: Rosalind Picard, Sc.D. and Matthew Goodwin, Ph.D.

 

Assessing and Communicating Movement Stereotypy and Arousal Telemetrically in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Stereotypical motor movements or stereotypies are one of the most common and least understood behaviors occurring in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Stereotypies are complex and thought to serve a multiplicity of functions. While no one theory has obtained overwhelming support, there is evidence for biological, operant, and homeostatic interpretations. Of particular importance to the current project, a small number of studies support the notion that there is a functional relationship between movement stereotypy and arousal in individuals with ASD, such that changes in autonomic activity either precede or are a consequence of engaging in stereotypies. Thus, it appears to be the case for some individuals that stereotypic movements are adaptively employed to help regulate stress, which in turn may help regulate attention, emotion, and social behaviors. Unfortunately, it is difficult to generalize these findings since previous studies fail to report reliability statistics that demonstrate accurate identification of movement stereotypy start and end times, and use autonomic monitors that are obtrusive and thus only suitable for short-term measurement in laboratory settings. This project aims to explore the relationship between movement stereotypy and autonomic activity in persons with ASD by combining state-of-the-art ambulatory heart rate monitors to objectively assess arousal across settings and wireless, wearable motion sensors (accelerometers) and pattern recognition software that can automatically and reliably detect stereotypical motor movements in individuals with ASD in real-time. Obtaining detailed and accurate information on the occurrence, type of movement, frequency, duration, and setting events associated with movement stereotypy is critical to understanding this behavior. Moreover, assessing and communicating stereotypical movements and arousal telemetrically may facilitate more precise intervention efforts before they are entrenched in an individual's repertoire.

 

MIT Media Lab




Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, Cambridge , MA
2008-2011

Principal Investigators: Rosalind Picard, Sc.D. and Matthew Goodwin, Ph.D.

Wearable Wireless Toolkit for Measurement and Communication of Autonomic Nervous System Activity in Autism

While many scientists have recognized the importance of characterizing stress and other Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) responses associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), traditional measurements have been limited to snapshots taken in a laboratory setting, and to group averages that ignore the highly dynamic patterns in an individual's ANS responsivity during daily activities. The key problem is that existing measurement devices have not been usable in a continuous, unobtrusive way outside the laboratory.  This research will utilize state-of-the-art knowledge in technology, especially in wearable sensors and wireless communication technology, to construct a comfortable, low-cost toolkit that makes it possible for people on the autism spectrum and their caregivers to continuously monitor and communicate autonomic arousal in daily life, including activity at home, school, and in community settings.  Participants can also, if they choose, share their ultra-dense data with scientists, providing an unprecedented opportunity for analysis of the everyday dynamics of ANS reactivity in persons diagnosed with ASD. The investigators will design, build, test, deploy, and evaluate the use of a toolkit consisting of a wrist-worn set of ANS sensors, together with a tiny low-power wireless radio, software analysis tools, communication controls, and visualization tools to enable persons on the autism spectrum and their caregivers to communicate ANS state information to trusted others, and to visualize and compare patterns in their data across time and different daily activities.  Examining these patterns, they will evaluate their potential for alerting people to states of interest that are helpful to predict, such as seizures, given that the condition of repeated seizures (epilepsy) is conservatively estimated to occur in 25% of ASD cases.  They will also evaluate the presence of other dynamic patterns that may be person-dependent, but useful for communicating states that are conducive to learning, attention, and successful social interaction.

MIT Media Lab




Oregon Health and Science University , Portland , OR

2008

Principal Investigator: Deniz Erdogmus, Ph.D.

 

ERP Based Communication Device for Nonverbal Children on the Autism Spectrum

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) exhibit varying levels of communication abilities. In this project, the investigator will address the communication needs of the subset that: 1) lack expressive speech and language; 2) lack ability to operate a keyboard, pointing device, or other typical assistive interface; and 3) are assumed to have adequate cognition, literacy, and receptive language understanding. This research aims to develop a communication system for such children. Resulting technology could also benefit other children and adults with adequate cognition but limited communication options. The investigator will develop an assistive communication facilitation device referred to as the RSVP Keyboard. It unites three technologies: 1) Rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP, with individually adjustable presentation rates) of letters/words/phrases; 2) a yes/no intent detection mechanism based on detecting evoked-response potentials (ERP) in the brain to determine which target letter or letters the child wants to convey; 3) a statistical language model based dynamic sequencing optimization procedure that computes which letter needs to be presented next to take advantage of regularities in language. The system will operate by showing the sequence of candidate letters on the screen as well as previously typed text, such that words and phrases are formed naturally by adding selected letters. The first goal is to test the viability of the basic concept of facilitated communication through the RSVP Keyboard System. Upon demonstration of feasibility through neuroimaging and statistical analysis of brain responses to RSVP stimuli sequences, the investigator will evaluate performances of typically developing children and nonverbal children with ASD in three interactive cognitive tasks.


Deniz Erdogmus




Oregon Health and Science University , Portland , OR

2008

 

Principal Investigator: Jan van Santen, Ph.D.

In Your Own Voice: Personal Augmentative and Alternative Communication Voices for Minimally Verbal Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Many children with autism who have limited verbal abilities use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices to help them communicate with others. Often, these devices produce speech output. Necessarily, the voice of such a system does not resemble in any way the voice of the child who uses the system. This project is for children who have at least some speech capability, such as saying a few isolated words. The investigator will develop technology that performs a voice transplant of the child's natural voice onto the AAC device, so that the device's voice will sound like the child. The investigator hypothesizes that an AAC device with a personalized voice that mimics the child's voice will psychologically reinforce powerful motivational factors and a sense of owness for communication so that the frequency and richness of AAC use, and its acceptance by family members and friends, will be enhanced. In addition, as a tool for improving a child's speech capabilities, a system that speaks with a voice similar to the child's own voice is likely to be more effective than a system that speaks with a default synthetic voice because the computer provides a model that is closer to the child's speech and hence is easier to emulate by the child. To create the system, the investigator will build on the most recent voice transformation, speech synthesis, and other speech technologies that have been developed in his lab.


Jan van Santen



Princeton University , Princeton , NJ

2008-2011

 

Principal Investigators: Arnold J. Levine, Ph.D. & Daniel A. Notterman, MD

 

Autism and Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in the IGF Pathway (Co-funded with

The Simons Foundation)

 

 

This project's goal is to test the frequencies of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in selected genes that populate the IGF-1, mTor and p53 interrelated signal transduction pathways in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. The IGF-1, mTor and p53 networks are known to act in the central nervous system (CNS) and regulate cell growth and size, dendrite formation, metabolic capabilities, glucose and amino acid use, stress and cell/DNA damage. It has become apparent that there are connections between the IGF-1-PI3K-AKT (cell growth, anti-apoptotic), mTor (glucose and amino acid sensing, autophagy control, metabolic regulation) and the p53 (stresses of many kinds-oxidative, hypoxia, DNA damage, etc leading to apoptosis and senescence) pathways. These three inter-related networks play a role in cancer; they are involved in diabetes and glucose utilization by cells, and they affect longevity. Several lines of evidence suggest that this same critical set of genes can act in the CNS to contribute to autism. For example, 60% of individuals with either TSC-1 or TSC-2 mutations have autism; some individuals with mutations in the PTEN gene develop autism, and a knock-out of the PTEN gene activity in the CNS of mice alters the structure of the CNS and results in behavioral abnormalities in these mice. Thus, the genes in these networks are interesting candidates whose alleles might contribute to autism or ASD. Initially, the PIs will examine possible increased frequencies of SNPs and haplotypes from each gene separately. Later, combinations of SNPs, haplotypes and genes will be examined for enhanced frequency in the autistic group. When the PIs are confident that a SNP or a haplotype is contributing to the autistic phenotype, they will explore the molecular effect of the SNP. Looking for polymorphisms in these candidate genes will complement other ongoing studies to track down mutations that contribute to autism spectrum disorder.

Arnold Levine

Daniel Notterman




Princeton University , Princeton , NJ

2008- 2010

Principal Investigator: David W. Wood, Ph.D.

Development of Bacterial Screens for ASD-Associated Compounds (Co-funded with the Lurie Family Foundation)

 

This project seeks to accelerate the identification of specific chemicals that may be associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by taking previously identified ASD-associated proteins, and cloning these proteins into a simple bacterial biosensor system. The sensor is designed such that growth of the resulting bacterial cells will depend on the conformation and activity of the cloned ASD-associated protein. The simplicity of the bacterial system will then facilitate the high-throughput screening of suspect chemicals for any effects on the cloned ASD-related protein. If effects are found (based on the resulting bacterial growth rates), then it is likely that those chemicals will have similar effects on that ASD-associated protein in human patients. Thus these bacterial biosensors will act as a highly simplified model for small pieces of ASD in humans, allowing studies of specific biochemical compounds and interactions that are associated with the disorder.

David Wood



The Regents of the University of California , Irvine , CA

2008

Principal Investigator: Michael Leon, Ph.D.

Olfactory and Other Novel Treatments for Autism

Autism is a severe developmental disorder, involving profound deficits in communication, social interactions and repetitive/compulsive behaviors. While there is increasing adoption of early interventions for the treatment of autism, these therapies require an extraordinary commitment of time and money, with only varying degrees of success. This project takes advantage of recent findings in the animal literature demonstrating that early sensory and motor stimulation allows brains to become much more resistant to neurological challenges, thereby preserving neurobehavioral function in the face of genetic, toxic and physical insults to the brain. In preliminary work, the investigator considered the possibility that humans challenged by autism would have similar gains in functionality with a specific type of increased sensory stimulation. There is now data showing that thirty-one of thirty-one autistic individuals given this form of sensory stimulation experienced measurable and significant improvements over a wide range of their symptoms, including the critical issue of communication. Through this grant, the investigator will test this treatment systematically with a randomized controlled trial. The sole aim of this project is to assess the efficacy of this treatment using a randomized controlled trial for 8-10 year-old autistic individuals, with a follow-up period to assess the ongoing efficacy of the treatment. If the therapy proves to be effective, it should be possible to treat autistic children reliably and effectively at a minimal expense.


Michael Leon



Syracuse University, Facilitated Communication Institute, Syracuse , NY
2008 -2009

Principal Investigator: Douglas Biklen, Ph.D.


This grant will support one year of research, demonstration/training, and public information at Syracuse University's Facilitated Communication Institute. Funding will (1) support an Assistant Professor to serve as key staff to coordinate research, assist with training consultations and complete revisions of the Institute's web site, and to recruit undergraduate and graduate students to research projects, (2) support the Assistant Director/Director of Training who coordinates all training and consultations as well as the development of web-based training, and (3) provide funding for other direct costs to support basis operational activities.

Click here to read the NLMFF Interview with Dr. Biklen

Doug Biklen


University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

2008

Principal Investigator: Jose Alcantara, Ph.D.

Psychophysical and Speech Perception Studies in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

 

One of the remarkable properties of speech perception is its high resilience to the corrupting influences of background sounds. Everyday experience tells us that, even in noisy acoustic environments, we are able to understand speech, with little or no effort on our part. It appears that the human auditory system has developed useful strategies or mechanisms to optimize the saliency of the speech signal. Some of these mechanisms involve processing that occurs at very low levels of the auditory system, including the hearing end organ - the cochlea. Others occur at higher levels, up to and including the auditory cortex, and beyond. However, it is clear that the low-level processing stages are important, particularly for our perception of loudness, and the detection of speech in noise. Individuals with autism appear to react aversively to sounds, and have difficulty understanding speech when there are competing sounds present. Currently, we are not certain whether these symptoms are due to alterations in low- or high-level auditory processing. However, the evidence for the former is compelling, although we do not as yet know the nature of the underlying mechanisms responsible for the observed speech-in-noise deficits and atypical loudness perception. This project involves a series of behavioral and objective studies of auditory perception using both simple and complex stimuli to identify those mechanisms responsible for the perceptual difficulties experienced by individuals with autism. The results of the project have the potential to lead to the development of new screening tools for auditory sensitivity in autism, which will be important not only for improved clinical diagnosis, but also for the use in epidemiological and genetic research into autism, and may also help in the design of digital speech processing algorithms to compensate for auditory processing abnormalities.



University of Cambridge, Laboratory for Research into Autism



University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy

2008

Principal Investigator: Maria Palmieri, MD

Mirror Neuron System and Written Communication through Facilitated Communication in People with Autism: A Cortical Profile of Excitability and Inhibition by Means of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

 

There are several studies that link Mirror Neurons (MN) to language and other studies describe a possible malfunction of the Mirror Neuron System (MNS) in people with autism. However, some people with autism use pointing and typing (FC) as an alternative to verbal language. This project is driven by the hypothesis that FC might activate the MNS, helping the person with autism to communicate. The aim is to investigate this hypothesis by means of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive technique widely used to test neuromotor activation. TMS is able to explore some brain circuits in humans, and TMS experiments in non-autistic people have demonstrated an activation of some brain areas while reading and speaking. This project will investigate whether the same is true for children with autism and no verbal language who have learned to read and write. If this is true, it would demonstrate that pointing with the objective of typing is an intentional movement. The study assumes that reading and writing, learned by FC, have created a common code between the two people who communicate which allows them to understand each other. Twenty non-speaking people with autism and twenty non-autistic people will participate in this year-long study. Selected subjects will undergo a clinical and neuropsychological assessment. After identifying participants, the investigator will test her hypothesis using TMS recording to prove that the typing on a keyboard of autistic FC users is intentional (i.e. independent from facilitator). If able to demonstrate this, the investigator will show that either MNS works in people with autism or that it has been activated as a result of training by means of FC and AAC
strategies.

University of Rome Tor Vergata



University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
2008

Principal Investigator: Maja Mataric, Ph.D.

Socially Assistive Robotics for Socialization and Communication Training in Children with Autism

 

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been shown to respond socially to simple robots. While interest in and engagement with machines has been reliably observed, it remains to be validated whether such interactions can lead toward improvements in the child's communication and social skill training. The goal of this study is to test and validate the possibility of transference of communication and social skills between robots and children with autism toward family, peers, and others.

This study brings together experts in ASD, social behavior, and intelligent socially assistive robotics. Their combined expertise and resources will be brought to bear, in a principled hypothesis-testing approach, not to develop new technology, but to study ways in which existing technology can be applied for effective therapeutic use. Through the involvement of the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and Children's Hospital of Los Angeles , children across the ASD spectrum will participate in the study.

The child-robot interactions begin as simple scenarios, and gradually increase in complexity in a child-specific, individualized manner. They will involve social and communication skills such as pointing, the use of personal pronouns, and joint attention, imitation, turn-taking, and vocal communication. The study will involve family members and peers, testing how child-robot communication and social interaction can be transferred to child-robot-peer and, eventually, toward child-peer communication and interaction. Different robot forms will be tested, from simple car-like platforms to more complex but affordable human-like machines. The results of child-robot interactions will be compared to interactions with computers, caretakers, and peers, to identify the potential role and effectiveness of robots as therapeutic tools for children with autism.


Maja Mataric



University of Wisconsin- Madison, Madison, WI
2008

Principal Investigator: Morton Gernsbacher, Ph.D.

The Neuroanatomical Origin of Severe Speech Impairment in Autism

 

Autistic individuals' delay and, for some, continued impairment in speech are typically ascribed to intellectual impairments or social affiliation deficits. Indeed, autistic individuals whose speech does not develop to fluency are often referred to as "low functioning," and are sure to be disadvantaged on many measures of intelligence. However, when assessed without demand on speech production, minimally fluent autistic individuals excel on the pre-eminent test of fluid intelligence. Similarly, although theoretical speculations continue to misperceive autism as an attachment disorder, all empirical studies demonstrate that autistic individuals are as securely attached to their primary caregivers as their peers.

In contrast to socio-emotional or intellectual attributions for autistic individuals' severe speech impairment, the research of Gernsbacher and colleagues has implicated oral- and manual-motor development. It should be noted that language is the mental representation of concepts, whereas speech is literally the articulation of language. Speaking fluently requires "an intricate orchestration" of oral-motor mechanisms.

The prominent associations among oral- and manual-motor skills and speech fluency which Gernsbacher and colleagues have documented in previous research, bear striking implications for appreciating communication impairment in autism. For instance, these associations challenge the common assumption that manual modes of communication, including those that require keyboarding, are available to autistic individuals - if simply they choose to use them.

This project is motivated by two important findings: (1) a neuroanatomical marker of individuals with speech impairment, and (2) a manual-motor behavioral marker of individuals with severe speech impairment that could be related to the neuroanatomical marker. Therefore, the purpose of the project is to explore the inter-relations among speech fluency, neuroanatomical structure, and manual dominance.



Laboratory of Morton Ann Gernsbacher


 

 

 

 
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