The goal of this Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) is to promote an independent research career by complementing the candidate?s training in neuroscience and education with expert mentorship in the measurement and analysis of social visual engagement (SVE), clinical monitoring of early typical and atypical social communication development, and novel statistical methods for longitudinal data analysis. The candidate?s short-term goal is to identify robust, early clinical and SVE predictors of functional communication skills, kindergarten readiness, and literacy outcomes in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related communication disorders (CDs). SVE measures?collected via eye-tracking technology?quantify the way in which children visually explore, engage with, ultimately learn from, and adapt to their surrounding world at different stages of life, and may provide key insights into atypical versus typical developmental processes over the early lifespan. The proposed project will capitalize on an established longitudinal cohort of 268 ASD, CD, and typically developing children who have, to date, contributed more than 8,000 clinical and 2,300 SVE measures over 12 time points from birth to age 3. The candidate will collect follow-up SVE, kindergarten readiness, and literacy development measures on this sample, when children are 5 (kindergarten), 6 (1st grade), 7 (2nd grade), and 8 (3rd grade) years of age. Longitudinal trajectories of clinical assessment measures will be tested for prediction of functional communication outcomes at age 3, kindergarten readiness outcomes at age 5, and literacy development at ages 5, 6, 7, and 8. Patterns and trajectories of SVE will also be investigated for their association with these developmental outcome measures. The candidate will directly test the extent to which specific inputs, timing, and dosage (i.e., magnitude and rate) of developmental divergences in trajectories relate to outcome. This work will provide quantitative, objective, community-viable, performance- based biomarkers for predicting and monitoring risk of school difficulties, and enable the identification of actionable targets and developmental windows of opportunity for early intervention in children with ASD and CDs. The training plan is supported by a multidisciplinary team of mentors?including Drs. Ami Klin, Warren Jones, Lindee Morgan, and Amy Wetherby?and the strengths of the Marcus Autism Center, one of only five NIH Autism Centers of Excellence, providing groundbreaking research and clinical care for individuals with ASD. The intersection of these strengths provides an ideal training environment for promoting the candidate?s transition to independent investigator, and leading a research program that leverages tools and insights from social neuroscience to improve early and school-based educational interventions for children with ASD and CDs.
The proposed project will investigate the prediction of functional communication abilities at age 3, kindergarten readiness at age 5, and literacy development from kindergarten through 3rd grade (ages 5, 6, 7, and 8), by clinical and social neuroscience trajectories of development from birth to 3 years, in a single cohort of children with autism and related communication disorders (ASD and CDs). This work will provide quantitative, objective, performance-based biomarkers for predicting and monitoring risk of school difficulties, and enable the identification of critical targets and developmental windows of opportunity for early intervention in children with ASD and CDs.