SCSU researchers looking for underlying communication difficulti - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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SCSU researchers looking for underlying communication difficulties among those with autism

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SCSU researchers conduct study to learn more about autism (WFSB) SCSU researchers conduct study to learn more about autism (WFSB)
(Derek Torrelas, SCSU Student photo) (Derek Torrelas, SCSU Student photo)
(Derek Torrelas, SCSU Student photo) (Derek Torrelas, SCSU Student photo)
(Derek Torrelas, SCSU Student photo) (Derek Torrelas, SCSU Student photo)
(Derek Torrelas, SCSU Student photo) (Derek Torrelas, SCSU Student photo)
NEW HAVEN, CT (WFSB) -

Researchers at Southern Connecticut State University are excited about a new study that they said they believe will give parents and doctors more insight into what goes on inside of an autistic child's brain.

Many have had the experience of being in a noisy restaurant, or bar, or ball game, and not being able to hear what a friend is saying to them.

That person typically will look at their friend's face to be able to hear them better.

However, Dr. Julia Irwin said she believes that children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder look less at a person's face when that person is talking.

Researchers believe this may explain the underlying communication and language difficulties among those with autism.

“If the face doesn't help repair--they may get less language and be able to understand less about what's said,” said Irwin, a professor in SCSU's Department of Psychology.

Irwin just started working on a nationally-funded study that is looking into how the face influences what children hear.

“What we found so far is, there's less looking at the face; and when kids with autism are looking at the face,” she said. “They're looking at ears, at foreheads, and not at the mouth.”

She and her team of students and researchers have been looking at children between the ages of six and 12 years old, who have autism, and those who have no-known developmental difficulties.

The three-step study starts with cognitive and language testing, and then the child goes to Haskins Laboratories at Yale University.

“We use an eye tracker which will actually follow a child's gaze; and we can put that on a display so we can see exactly where they're looking and when,” Irwin said.

The eye tracker is also integrated with a cap called an EEG, which is a non-invasive device that sits on the child's head and measures underlying brain activity.

“So, we don't have to ask the child ‘what did you hear?' We can ask their brain passively what it heard,” Irwin said.

Once the testing is over, the child is given an iPad for three weeks, as a therapeutic training game.

It helps teach the child to look at the mouth or the face when someone is talking.

“Knowing the basis of what might go wrong, and being able to intervene early is so crucial that this kind of study--we hope will really make a difference in future generations,” Irwin said.

If you'd like to enroll your child in this study, please contact Dr. Julia Irwin at: listeningtofaces@haskins.yale.edu 

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