Discovery across the Life Span: Beginnings

Discovery across the Life Span: Beginnings

The Life Span Institute’s reputation in discovery about the beginning of the human life span is worldwide and stretches back more than 50 years.

A landmark 1994 study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley documenting staggering differences in the number of early parent-child verbal interactions between poorer and more privileged children continues to be a touchstone for justifying earlier intervention. One of LSI’s 2011 highlights was Betty Hart’s interview by National Public Radio on January 10.

Dale Walker, who collaborated with Hart and has extended the knowledge of how parents and early educators can enhance and promote the development of children’s ability to communicate, testified for funding Early Head Start (EHS) to a March 3 Kansas House subcommittee. The program had been left out of the state budget but was ultimately reinstated.

Walker had evidence that EHS is working because of another KU LSI innovation: the Early Communication Indicator (ECI), developed by a team of LSI scientists including Walker, Charles Greenwood, Judy Carta and Jay Buzhardt. The ECI is a quick, play-based assessment of children’s communication growth that is used in EHS and other programs in 22 other states and three countries. Walker testified that of the 5000 Kansas children in EHS assessed with the ECI, 80 percent were at or above norm for language proficiency.

In 2011, the researchers found that an ECI innovation called the MOD (or Making Online Decisions) significantly improved children’s communication progress when it was tested by EHS home visitors. The MOD acts as an “intelligent advisor” so that EHS staff can input the ECI results into the Child Data System that then generates graphs and gives evidence-based routines that staff can teach parents.

Another 2011 highlight: the Autism Speaks Top Ten Science Research Achievement designation of the discovery that autism has a unique vocal “signature” by Steven Warren. The discovery was made possible by the LENATM (Language Environment Analysis) system that its inventors say was inspired by the Hart and Risley study.

John Colombo and Christa Anderson have found differences in how the autonomic nervous system functions in young children with autism in resting pupil size and recently, in the levels of certain enzymes in saliva. The enzymes are related to the levels of the neurochemical norepinephrine that regulates pupil size, heart rate, breathing, etc. These findings could potentially be a way to screen for autism very early in life and more, they build evidence that the autonomic nervous system may be the nexus of the disorder.