Current Environment:

Warning

Recall Alert

There is a voluntary recall of Potassium Chloride Extended-Release Capsules. Learn more

For Families | Overview

Centralized Recruitment Initiative

If your family is seen in our Developmental Medicine Center, you may be contacted about research opportunities around the time of your visit. Joining a research study is completely optional. We want to let you know about all studies in case you are interested. If you are, we will connect you with the research teams.

Meet the study coordinators who work on the Centralized Recruitment Project on our Research Team page. You may see them in clinic or talk to them on the phone. Come say hello! We would love to talk to you about our research!

Social Stories

Social Stories are a learning tool that uses pictures and words to help kids (and parents!) prepare for new experiences. Our study teams have put together social stories specifically for our families participating in research. The stories take you through the steps of a study’s visits, so your child can learn about who they will be meeting and what they will be doing during the study.

To use the social story, we recommend reading it with your child a few times a week leading up to the study visit. Our goal is to make study visits as successful as possible! Clinical versions of social stories, for example about planning your trip to give a blood sample, are available too, on the My Hospital Stories page.

Looking for clinical resources? Please visit our Developmental Medicine Center page.

What have we learned from research?

Persistence of Autism Spectrum Disorder From Early Childhood Through School Age

Harstad E, Hanson, E, Brewster SJ, et al. Persistence of Autism Spectrum Disorder From Early Childhood Through School Age. JAMA Pediatr. 2023;177(11):1197-1205. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2023.4003.

This research study looked at whether symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) changed during childhood (persistence). To test whether ASD diagnosis changed, researchers studied 213 children who were initially diagnosed with ASD through an in-depth clinical assessment when they were between 1-3 years old. Once the children were between 5-7 years old, they were re-tested for ASD through a research assessment. Results of the testing showed that 37.1% of participants no longer met the criteria for ASD. Children who had higher self-help skills when they were toddlers, and those who were girls, were more likely to no longer meet criteria for ASD several years later. These results followed the pattern from other similar studies, and provide evidence that ASD diagnosis at a young age might change over time. These findings suggest that children diagnosed with ASD at a young age should have their development monitored over time to provide updated recommendations and supports. 

Click here for the full article

A Biomarker Discovery Framework for Childhood Anxiety

Bosl WJ, Bosquet Enlow, M, Lock, EF, Nelson, CA. A Biomarker Discovery Framework for Childhood Anxiety. Front Psychiatry. 2023:14:1158569. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1158569.

Anxiety in young children is a very important issue, as it can have negative effects on children’s ability to succeed in school, socialize, and adapt to new situations. Early anxiety also can increase risk for mental health issues into adulthood. About 10-20% of children between the ages of 2 to 5 years meet criteria for clinically significant anxiety. Right now, treatment can only be given after symptoms appear. If emerging anxiety can be detected earlier, there might be ways to prevent anxiety or lessen its severity. This study used a simple method of recording brain activity to look for patterns that could predict emerging anxiety disorders in children. Researchers followed 150 children in three groups – (1) one group with diagnosed anxiety, (2) one group with other psychiatric conditions, but not anxiety, and (3) one group of typically developing children – and took brain activity measurements for each child at 1, 3, 5, and 7 years old. The results showed that brain scans at later ages were more strongly related to anxiety; considering brain scans from multiple ages at the same time was the strongest predictor. The results suggest a possible developmental trajectory that leads some children towards anxiety. Overall, this research is very promising in detecting early signs of anxiety but needs further study.

Click here for the full article

Risk for internalizing symptom development in young children: Roles of child parasympathetic reactivity and maternal psychopathology exposure in early life

Quigley KM, Petty CR, Sidamon-Eristoff AE, Nelson CA, Bosquet Enlow M. Risk for internalizing symptom development in young children: Roles of child parasympathetic reactivity and maternal psychopathology exposure in early life. Psychophysiology. 2023;60(10):e14326. doi: 10.1111/psyp.14326.

Recent data have shown that rates of depression and anxiety in children have almost doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has also suggested that anxiety may be transmitted from parent to child, as children whose parents have anxiety and depression symptoms are five times more likely to develop anxiety disorders. The researchers of this study hypothesized that one of the reasons for the increased risk might be increased sensitivity of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the part of the nervous system which restores the body to a calm state after a stressful or anxious experience. The researchers studied a sample of 446 mother-child pairs from when the children were infants until they were 5 years old. Child PNS reactivity was tested when the children were 3 years old while they watched a neutral and a fearful video. The results showed that children who had both increased PNS reactivity to the fearful video and mothers who reported high levels of depression or anxiety symptoms were more likely to develop anxiety by age 5 years compared to children who just had increased PNS activity or mothers with high levels of symptoms. The results suggest that children’s biology interacts with their environment to influence their risk of developing anxiety.

Click here for the full article

Associations between EEG trajectories, family income, and cognitive abilities over the first two years of life

Wilkinson CL, Pierce L, Sideridis G, Wade M, Nelson CA. Associations between EEG trajectories, family income, and cognitive abilities over the first two years of life. Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2023:61:101260. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2023.101260.

This study focused on understanding how family’s income and parent’s education can impact brain development in children. The study analyzed developmental changes in early brain activity (using EEG) in 161 Boston area infants from a wide variety of family incomes and levels of maternal education. Results showed that income, but not maternal education, was associated with differences in early brain activity (measured at 2-3 month of age) as well as how brain activity changed between 3-9 months of age. Specifically, infants from families with lower income and lower levels of activity (increased EEG power). However, from three to nine months after birth, the infants with lower family income had greater increases in brain activity. This supports the “Stress Acceleration Hypothesis,” which theorizes that increased early adversity/stress may support faster growth of the brain regions involved in emotional learning and reactivity. One limitation of the study is that “lower income” can represent different things in an infant’s environment, including access to resources, secure housing, and parent stress. Future studies from this research group will focus on larger studies specifically in infants from families with limited resources so that they can tease apart what factors play the most important role in brain development and developmental outcomes.

Click here for the full article