‘Gifted’ Research

Cluster projects draw foundation dollars

Story by Amy Raley

The Autism Cluster’s difference-making research has garnered philanthropic support from the Gadomski Foundation. This private Pennsylvania organization was inspired to fund the cluster’s interdisciplinary work on the following projects:

Poor sleep and acting out. Cause and effect?

Sleep problems are common in children with ASD, and poor sleep is tied to unwanted behaviors and hindered learning. This study will look at the roles of sleep in early behavioral treatment.

Using mice to understand learning and attention issues

Why do people with ASD have attention and perception anomalies? Fragile X is a genetic condition that shares many characteristics with ASD. This study will create eye-tracking technology to measure perception and attention in mice with Fragile X and apply the same technology to humans to help explain attention and perception differences in Fragile X and ASD.

Do certain pet animals help?

Research shows that having an animal nearby can improve social behaviors in children with ASD, but it’s not known how or why. This study will look into how different animals help with social and language abilities in nonverbal children with ASD. A main goal is to create technology that allows such children to identify which therapy animal they want most.

Removing monitoring wires

Researchers often attach wires to children with ASD to measure their bodies’ reactions to stress, learning and social interaction. This project aims to show how advanced video processing can eliminate the bothersome and often stress-inducing wires taped to children’s faces, fingers or chests.

A second phase of the project will examine the effect of animals on children with ASD. It is believed that animals reduce stress in children with ASD. This phase will use video to record if children are less stressed around animals. The long-term goal is to collect data needed for a larger video-based study to look at the therapeutic value of animals.

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