The Social Neuroscience Core focuses on developing specialized technologies to measure social development and any risk for autism, beginning in infancy and charting progress through young adulthood. For example, Dr. Jones, Dr. Klin and colleagues are using eye-tracking technology to identify signs of autism and are working toward developing an earlier diagnostic for children who will develop autism or related disorders.
In typical development, the processes of normative social interaction emerge extremely early. From the first hours and weeks of life, preferential attention to familiar voices, faces, face-like stimuli and biological motion guide typical infants. These processes appear to be so important that they have been highly conserved throughout evolution. Interaction with other humans lays the foundation for the proper development of mind and brain, entraining babies to the social signals of their caregivers.
Deficits in eye contact, a crucial part of social interactions, have been a hallmark of autism since the condition’s initial description. Recent work from this core has demonstrated that infants later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) exhibit mean decline in eye fixation from 2 to 6 months of age, a pattern not observed in infants who do not develop ASD. The timing of this decline highlights a narrow developmental window and reveals the early derailment of processes that would otherwise have a key role in guiding typical social development.
This core is continuing to study neural function and social disability in ASDs by analyzing eye movements in response to videos and determining what typically developing children or ASD children find salient (or engaging to them) in the videos. This provides clues as to how the brain’s responses to stimuli are being shaped.
Avi Gates, an active, independent 3-year-old, does not have autism. But for two years, she was a participant in an autism research study aimed at changing the very nature of the disease. Learn why Avi's parent's chose to participate in autism research.
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