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Stimulating Social Engagement Behaviors in Individuals with Autism

The Social Engagement System, based on the Polyvagal Theory, provides a neurobiological model of how difficulties in spontaneous social behavior are related to facial expressivity and regulation of bodily state. ¬†Relevant to autism are specific deficits in the Social Engagement System that are expressed in behaviors dependent on muscles of the face and head and regulation of bodily state. This grant explored the hypothesis that spontaneous social behavior, social awareness, affect expressivity, prosody, language development and a behavioral “reliance” on restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior are, in part, derivative and predictable consequences of problems in the neural regulation of the Social Engagement System.¬† The aims of the research were: 1) to describe the autistic nervous system through the development of new theory-driven measures that may have immediate application in the assessment of impairment and evaluation of intervention outcomes; and 2) to expand current successful intervention technologies to an adult population and to determine the features of individuals who will benefit from this intervention.