Research Grants - Autism Spectrum Disorder

2012-2017: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health

Typically developing infants have fundamental perceptual biases that direct their attention to socially relevant stimuli such as voices and faces. Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) show apparent deficits in auditory and visual processing of the voices and faces of their own species (conspecifics). We propose a prospective, experimental, longitudinal approach examining whether infants who lack foundational perceptual biases to attend to auditory and visual characteristics of conspecifics are more likely to develop deficits in social communication skills that are characteristic of ASD symptomology. By focusing on foundational and species-typical perceptual processes rather than complex skills, we hope to uncover earlier reliable markers and a mechanistic understanding compared with existing studies with high-risk siblings.

We are following later-born infant siblings of children diagnosed with ASD as they have an increased risk of recurrence, and increased probability of cognitive or language difficulties, and a comparison group of typically developing siblings. This project’s long-term goal is to help early identification of atypical development at an individual level in high-risk infants before overt ASD behaviors emerge by focusing on fundamental perceptual biases, and ultimately guide early intervention across a broad ASD phenotype. This research thus aims to identify high-risk infants before the full ASD behavioral profile can be characterized through standard observational protocols.

Principle Investigator: Dr. Athena Vouloumanos, NYU
Co-Principle Investigator: Dr. Suzanne Curtin, UofC
Project Coordinator: Lisa Henkel
Graduate Student Researchers: Jennifer Ference, Jacquie Beatch

2011-2013: Alberta Centre for Child, Family, and Community Research (ACCFCR)

This project is a follow-up to our previous Baby-Sibs grant from ACCFCR. It allows us to follow our infants until 36 months of age.

Principle Investigator: Dr. Suzanne Curtin 
Co-Principle Investigator: Dr. Shirley Leew
Project Co-ordinator: Jennifer Campbell
Graduate Researchers: Danielle Droucker, Jennifer Ference
Undergraduate RAs: Kathleen Engel, Lisa Henkel

2007-2010: Alberta Centre for Child, Family, and Community Research (ACCFCR)

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are very common developmental problems of children. Early detection is very important. Infants with ASD might show signs of problems before they learn to talk or as they learn to talk, by how they attend to their parents' speech and language. We don't know enough yet about the early development of social attention in children with ASD that might be different, but that could help speech and language development. This study follows high and low risk infants as they learn speech, language, and social communication, and will also look at how they pay attention to their parents' speech, language, and communication. The high-risk infants will have an older brother or sister who has ASD. The low risk infants will have an older brother or sister who does not have ASD. The information from this study will help us recognize early signs of ASD and other language or speech problems in infants so that they can get help as soon as possible.

Principle Investigator: Dr. Suzanne Curtin 
Co-Principle Investigator: Dr. Shirley Leew 
Researcher: Danielle Droucker