Undoing Autism One Toy at a Time
The Power of Language
Along with the eye-tracking study, a companion project at the Marcus Center is studying the way babies learn to talk and respond to human speech.
Once a month, Gordon Ramsay, PhD, director of the center’s Spoken Communication Laboratory, sends babies and their mothers a small recording device in the mail and a pair of overalls with a pocket on the front. The babies wear the recorder for a full day, from the time they wake up until they turn in at night. He’s using it to capture how mothers talk to their babies, and how that, in turn, influences the way the infants learn to talk.
Another arm of the study is using 4-D ultrasound and fetal monitoring to watch how babies in the womb respond to their mother’s voices.
The goal is to develop a reference library for speech patterns that would help researchers tell when a child has veered off the normal path for language development.
About 1 in 5 kids with autism never learns to speak. Another 1 in 5 will begin to speak but lose that ability in the second year of life, “because it doesn’t have any meaning to them. It’s not useful,” Ramsay says.
“Moms tell us it’s one of the worst things,” he says. “It cripples their social development and their ability to have an independent life if they can’t speak.”
Together with the eye tracking, the researchers hope to develop what they call a “template of attention” -- a way to separate what is normal from what is not. It could be a way to screen babies, even before they can fully express themselves, for developmental problems.
The Marcus Center’s early behavior therapy study is testing a kind of therapy called Early Social Interaction.
The treatment revolves around the natural bond a baby has with his or her primary caregiver, usually Mom. And psychologists are testing ways to teach mothers how to deliver this kind of treatment at home, rather than relying on professionals and office-based setting.