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Research

Theme of the lab

As early as infancy, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are less inclined to orient to social cues such as their parent’s eye gaze or the sound of their name than their typical and developmentally delayed peers. These “lapses of attention” may be creating a disadvantage in the social experiences of children with ASD over time. For example, many children may be missing out on important social information and learning opportunities that promote the development of social competence . The research at ADDL is designed to explore the ways that processes of attention may interfere or facilitate an individual’s ability to engage in a variety of social experiences ranging from detecting information from eyes and faces to interpreting subtle cues from complex social interactions involving several participants.

Here are a few examples of the kinds of questions that we ask in our research

Attention

Are children with ASD good visual searchers and how is this related to their visual search for social information?

Figure 1. The visual search paradigm.  Left: example of a search display in which the participant has to search for the presence of a red O.  Right: prototypical search function, with response time to detect or reject the presence of a target plotted as a function of the number of distractors in the display (e.g., red N's and green O's). Search times tend to increase with as more distracters are added to the display.  Previous research indicates that individuals with autism are superior to typically developing individuals at searching for targets (O'Riordan et al., 2004; Autism, 8(3), 229-248).

 

Social competence

What types of social problems do persons within the Autism spectrum have? How are they different from those of persons with other types developmental disabilities?

Parent-child interactions

Parent-child interactions have significant implications for child outcomes in children with and without developmental disorders. Specific questions we are currently investigating include: 1) Which parent and child behaviours within interactions are contributing to child mental health and social development? 2) Which parent and child characteristics contribute to observed interaction behaviours? 3) What are the similarities and differences in behaviour observed during these interactions when comparing different groups of children?
 

Family Quality of Life

‘Family quality of life’ (FQOL) has been defined as “conditions where the family’s needs are met, and family members enjoy their life together as a family and have the chance to do things which are important to them” (Park et al., 2003, p. 368).  In this line of research, we are examining how aspects of the child, family, and surrounding social systems affect FQOL. We look at factors that place the family at risk, such as child behaviour problems, as well as those that protect families from adversity, including open communication and access to appropriate supports and services.

We are excited to announce that the ADDL just received a grant that allows us to continue this study by reaching out to different cultural communities!