27 June 2006

Dr Olivier Pascalis wins $120,000 grant from NAAR-Autism Speaks

Olivier Pascalis has won a $120,000 grant from NAAR-Autism Speaks for a project entitled "Development of Face and Gaze Processing Skills in Autism Spectrum Disorder." This work is in collaboration with Kasia Chawarska, from the Yale Child Study Center. A brief overview of the research can be found below:

Development of Face and Gaze Processing Skills in Autism Spectrum Disorder

The ability to recognize faces and to appreciate the attentional significance of gaze is highly consequential for successful social interactions and communication and are typically impaired in individuals with Autism Sectrum Disorders (ASD). This project will examine face scanning patterns, preferential attention to faces, the effects of familiarity and affective context on face recognition, sensitivity to direct gaze, and the ability to respond to directional gaze cues in toddlers with ASD, toddlers with developmental delays (DD), and typically developing toddlers (TD). Aim #1 of the study will be focused on documenting typical developmental trajectories of the face and gaze processing skills. While many studies have focused on typical development of these skills in the first year of life, there is limited evidence regarding their progression in the second year. This type of information is important for selecting of the most appropriate procedures for testing the ASD and DD toddlers as well as interpreting their performance. Thus, to map normative development of these various aspects of face and gaze processing skills we will examine performance of a large cohort of typical 12, 18, and 24-month-olds. Aim #2 of the proposal will involve applying of the most promising procedures identified through Aim #1 on the ASD and DD groups in Year 2. The goal will be to determine whether 18 to 24-month-old toddlers with ASD show impairments in any of the targeted skill areas and evaluate whether these deficits are specific to ASD. Several types of visual cognition paradigms will be employed, and visual responses will be recorded using an eye-tracking system. The proposed project will (1) lead to identification of the areas of strength and impairment in toddlers with ASD; (2) provide pilot data for further prospective studies aimed at elucidation of the underlying mechanisms of the impairments in ASD; (3) lead to creating downward extensions of the current experimental tasks into procedures suitable for detecting abnormalities in 0 to 18-month-olds; this might be consequential for designing behavioral tests for identifying infants at high risk for ASD; 4) will facilitate identification of key areas for early intervention.