Study focused on improving communication skills of children with autism

HAMDEN, Conn. (WTNH)  – Improving the communications skills of children on the autism spectrum. There’s a study underway at Southern Connecticut State University designed to do just that.

When most of us are in a noisy environment, for example a restaurant, we focus on a person’s face so we are better able to hear, specifically at the person’s mouth as they are speaking.

But studies show people on the autism spectrum are less likely to use the face for hearing.
SCSU researchers want to know why, in hopes of developing therapies, aimed at improving that ability.

Thomas Vergara was among the first to participate in the Listening to Faces study where they are focused on improving communication skills for children like Thomas who are on the autism spectrum.

Associate Professor of Psychology Julia Irwin is the lead investigator.

“When someone is talking- we would expect you to look at the mouth and we’re finding that kids with autism look less to the mouth– even when we ask them to lip read– when there is no sound at all.”

They are trying to figure out how to help kids like Thomas overcome that disconnect of not using the face, so they are better able to communicate in noisy environments like the school cafeteria.

The team had the 11 year old go through cognitive and language testing.

Thomas Vergara said, “They’re trying to study the autistic brain, they’re like testing my brain out.”

His brain activity was also measured.

“What this study is designed to figure out, ” explained Prof. Irwin, ” is it not working quite right? or is it just under-represented or under-reactive in the sense the brain is not as experienced and could we pump that experience up and intervene in that way.”

The youngster clearly understands the ongoing research.

He said, “Mostly the brain is in charge, not the body. But sometimes the body gets in charge, that means your body doesn’t use your brain.”

HIs mother, Diane Vergara shared, “What we found out is that he definitely made an improvement even though it was a short period of time.” She went onto add, “We want them to be as productive as they can. They can learn a lot and they just need to find the right tools.”

“The kids in our study are typically kids,” said Prof. Irwin, “who are not extremely severe, they can wear the cap, they can answer questions. But we begin to get some insight into how this functions and we can see how this would work across the spectrum.”

The three year study is looking for children 6 to 12 years old to participate — those on the autism spectrum, kids with speech problems and those typicallly developing.

Testing is done in one to two visits.

For more information – you can e-mail listeningtofaces@haskins.yale.edu

Or call 203-392-5172 or 865-6163, x337 or x245..