Meixner Translational Postdoctoral Fellowship
Eye-tracking research in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has focused on atypical scanning patterns during passive scene viewing. However, atypicalities in looking patterns in ASD are most pronounced and relevant during social interactive and communicative tasks. This study uses Gaze-Contingent (GC) technologies to examine disturbances in basic and social learning mechanisms in toddlers with ASD. This project also examines whether learning of joint attention skills can be bolstered in toddlers with ASD through a novel training task following principles from naturalistic ABA methods. The following protocols will be administered to toddlers with ASD and typically developing (TD) toddlers: 1) GC with non-social cues. To examine basic contingency insensitivities, a GC paradigm will be administered in which one of two buttons on a computer screen can be activated by gaze, triggering an animation as a visual reward. Previous studies have shown that 6- and 8-month-old TD infants can learn these associations after only a few trials. 2) GC with social cues. This study will examine whether toddlers can learn causal relationships among others’ attentional cues, their own eye movements, and visual rewards. An actress will use gaze shifts, head turns, speech, and pointing to indicate one of two specified target areas of interest. If the toddler shifts his gaze to the correct target area, a moving toy will appear there, and the actress will reinforce with verbal praise and direct eye contact. 3) GC following child’s lead. This will examine if toddlers with ASD can better learn social cause-effect relationships in the context of dynamic interactivity. Using a similar setup to (2), toys will be in target areas around the actress. When the toddler looks at a toy, the actress will bring the toy in front of her and start playing with it while interacting with the toddler. These trials will be interleaved with (2) to examine improvements in learning. This study will provide insight into the atypical social responses in toddlers with ASD and develop methodology for novel therapeutic programs, advancing behavior marker discovery and experimental therapeutics.
Technology Development, Eye Tracking/ Eye Movements, Social Behavior/ Social Cognition, Biofeedback, Phenotyping/ Assessment, Equipment/ Supportive Technology, Interactive Systems, Screening/ Diagnosis/ Phenotyping, Etiology/ Risk Factors, Treatment/ Prevention, Toddlers (18 Months-3 Years), Autism Spectrum Disorder, Typical Development