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Imitative Behaviors in Children with ASD and their Unaffected Siblings

Brief Description:                                                                                        

In this study, we aim to investigate patterns of brain activity associated with imitative behaviors. Specifically, we aim to identify differences in the brain activity of children with an ASD diagnosis, their unaffected siblings, and children who are typically developing. To do so, we will measure children’s brain activity and looking patterns while they play with a variety of novel toys and watch short videos.

Eligibility for Study Participation:

  • Children between the ages of 3.5 years to 6 years of age who were not born prematurely (37 weeks or greater)
  • Children that fit into one of three groups:
    • Children who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and have an older sibling with ASD
    • Children who do not have ASD, but who have an older sibling with ASD
    • Children without ASD who have siblings without ASD

Participation Details:

Eligible Participants will be invited to the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience for a one-time visit of approximately 3 hours. Participant’s parents will be compensated $25 for their child’s participation in the experiment, and children will receive a toy to take home following the study. Parents will be with their child at all times. The sessions will be scheduled at a time that is convenient for you and your child. Free parking is provided, as well as childcare for any siblings who may come along.

Research Contact:

 Laura Edwards                                                

Full Description:

We know from previous research that children with autism show differences in how they imitate other people’s actions. In one previous study of imitation, typically developing children were found to imitate only those actions that experimenters performed intentionally, whereas children with ASD imitated both intentional and accidental actions. These findings suggest that children with ASD may have difficulty understanding the intentions of others, a skill that is important for successfully navigating the social world.

This study aims to identify whether there are differences in brain activity between children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), their unaffected siblings, and children who are typically developing, while they are performing tasks related to imitation. In particular, we are investigating brain patterns associated with theory of mind, or the ability to understand what another person is thinking. By recording brain and eye activity, we aim to gain insight into how children with ASD attend to and perceive other’s actions, and how this may be different from typically developing children. Additionally, we are interested in understanding how the unaffected siblings of children with ASD perceive other’s actions, given recent work that suggests that these siblings may process information differently from both children with ASD and typically developing children. By learning more about the neural networks associated with these behaviors, we hope to better understand how children navigate their social world and to improve the design of learning environments and interventions for children with ASD.

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