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Behavioral and Neural Variability in Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Baum, Sarah

Lee, Adrian

University of Washington


3 years

Meixner Translational Postdoctoral Fellowship



United States



In addition to the classical core features of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there is also a high prevalence of deficits in sensory processing. Without a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of these deficits, and knowledge of how sensory function maps on to domains of core impairments like communication, treatment strategies that aim to improve sensory processing may ultimately fall short. This project will explore a potential mechanism for sensory processing deficits: increases in neural (and its associated behavioral) variability. In ASD, individual performance across a range of sensory and cognitive tasks is impaired and also is more inconsistent than for “neurotypical” populations. In the context of sensory processing, if the brain’s response to a particular stimulus is highly variable, it will be increasingly difficult to differentiate stimulus-evoked patterns of neural activity, leading to difficulty in processing sensory cues. This project seeks to better characterize the basic mechanisms of sensory processing deficits in children with ASD from the perspective of sensory variability (Aim 1), and then to use this information in an effort to reduce variability and thus increase sensory acuity with a perceptual training paradigm (Aim 2). Because of the strong links between sensory processing and communication skills, the ultimate goal of this research is to provide a simple and effective tool for improving these abilities in children with ASD.

FMRI, Functional Neuroimaging, Phenotyping/ Assessment, Cognitive Behavioral Interventions, Sensory Issues, Perception, Broader Autism Phenotype, Neuroscience, Screening/ Diagnosis/ Phenotyping, Etiology/ Risk Factors, Treatment/ Prevention, Children (3-12 Years), Adolescents/ Young Adults (13-25 Years), Aspergers/ High-Functioning Individuals With ASD

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