Neurocognitive Development of Autism
I received my PhD with honors from the University of Kansas in May 2010. I initiated the Neurocognitive Development of Autism Research Program during my time as a doctoral student, and have chosen to remain at KU to further this interdisciplinary and collaborative research program. I have over 14 years of experience working with children on the autism spectrum. In addition, I spent over 8 years doing clinical work with young children with ASD, and have used this experience to develop this interdisciplinary research program which has two primary goals: (a) to examine neural impairments in lower-order structures to determine their role in initiating the cascade of effects that lead to ASD, and (b) using correlates of these early-developing neural systems such as pupil size, sleep measures, salivary correlates, neuroimaging, and genetic analyses to identify biomarkers that can improve early detection, screening, and assessment of those with ASD.
My research interests are in the developmental cognitive neuroscience of attention and learning, with a special focus on early individual differences in these areas and how they relate to the typical and atypical development of cognitive and intellectual function. I conduct research in laboratories at the KU Edwards Campus and the KU Medical Center, as well as at the Wakarusa Research Facility in Lawrence, and am the Director of the Life Span Institute on the Lawrence campus. I served as Dr. Anderson's graduate advisor and now as her colleague and mentor, assisting with the development and success of the Neurocognitive Development of Research Program.
Graduate Research Assistants:
Leah Kapa, MA
Graduate Research Assistant
Child Language Program
I am in my fourth year of study in the Child Language Doctoral Program. I earned my master's degree in Child Language from KU in 2010, and my research interests include bilingual language acquisition and the relationship between bilingualism and attentional control. I have worked with Dr. John Colombo in his Early Cognition Lab for the past four years, and am excited to be joining the Neurocognitive Development of Autism Program with Dr. Anderson, which will allow me to extend my knowledge of language acquisition into new populations. I am responsible for administering subject appointments, and oversight of our current project assessing the ability of eye-tracking measures to provide an alternative assessment of receptive language ability in low-functioning children with ASD.
Sara McElhaney, BA, BS
Graduate Research Assistant
Social and Behavioral Methodology
I am a first year graduate student in the Developmental Psychology program at KU. I received my BA in Cognitive Psychology and BS in Human Biology from KU in 2010 with honors, and chose to stay here at KU to pursue a graduate degree. I have been working with the Neurocognitive Development of Autism Research Program since my senior year as an undergrad, and completed my Senior Honor's Thesis on bilingual language development with the mentorship of Leah Kapa. I am happy to be working with Drs. Anderson and Colombo to acquire interdisciplinary research skills that I can apply to my future career as a scientist.
Graduate Research Assistant
Doctoral Student in Neuroscience
I was an undergraduate research assistant with the Neurocognitive Development of Autism Research Program from January of 2010 to May 2012, during which time I worked with Dr. Anderson on several publications including my honor’s thesis. I am currently a graduate student in at Vanderbilt in the Neuroscience department, but continue to collaborate with Dr. Anderson on current projects.
Undergraduate Research Assistant
I have been involved with the Neurocognitive Development of Autism Research Program as an independent study student since January of 2012. I currently work as an undergraduate research assistant for the program. My responsibilities include assisting with the continuous maintenance of our lab as well as assisting with the recruitment of new participants for our upcoming research programs. I am currently a senior at KU majoring in psychology. Upon graduation I plan to pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy and hope to work with children with developmental disorders.
Adam Brewer, Ph.D.
Post-doctoral Fellow & Visiting Assistant Professor
Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research & Department of Educational Psychology and Leadership
Texas Tech University
Dr. Brewer is a post-doctoral fellow at the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research and a visiting assistant professor for the Department of Educational Psychology and Leadership at Texas Tech University. His research focuses on investigating the effects of transitions from one activity to the next on disruptive behavior and examining the relation between impulsive behaviors and self-injurious behavior in persons with autism.
He is continuing collaboration, from his days as a graduate student at KU, with Drs. Anderson and Williams on the effects of different types of transitions on autonomic responses (i.e., measuring pupil dilation). We are currently in the pilot stage of this study.
Cary Savage, PhD
Director, Center for Health Behavior Neuroscience
John H. Wineinger Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
University of Kansas Medical Center
Dr. Savage is the Director of the Center for Health Behavior Neuroscience at KUMC and the John H. Wineinger Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He serves on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology, and Biology of Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Dr. Savage's research is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and private foundations. His research focuses on the roles of prefrontal cortex and limbic system in memory and motivational processes, and how activity in these brain regions contributes to health-related decision making. Areas of specific interest include brain mechanisms of eating, exercise adherence, and compulsive behavior.
He is collaborating with Drs. Anderson and Colombo on a recently completed study aimed at examining the relationship between pupil size and neural activation in 7 – 11 year old children with high-functioning autism. We are working on data analysis for this project and expect to have the results of this project published by Fall 2011.
Dr. Matthew Reese is the Director of the Center for Child Health and Development and the Co-Director of the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training. His research interests include the use of technology such as Telemedicine in diagnosing and treating children with ASD and understanding severe aberrant behavior in this population.
He is collaborating with Drs. Anderson and Colombo to identify potential biomarkers of ASD that will aid in early identification and screening efforts by conducting a study to prospectively identify ASD in children using measures of pupil size, salivary alpha-amylase, and head circumference. We are currently seeking funding to complete this project.
Dr. Brady's research interests include development of communication in individuals with autism. She is studying the transition from augmentative communication such as PECS and speech generating devices to spoken language. She is also interested in developing better assessments for children who do not respond to traditional language tests.
Dr. Brady is collaborating with Dr. Anderson on a project to use eye-tracking measurements of gaze location and pupil size to determine if these measures can be used to assess receptive language ability in children with ASD who do not respond to traditional testing. We are still in the data collection phase of this project.
Steve Barlow, PhD
Director, Communication Neuroscience Laboratories
Director, Speech Aerodynamics and Voice Laboratory, Schiefelbusch Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic
Dr. Steven Barlow is Professor of Speech-Language-Hearing, Core Executive faculty of Neuroscience and Human Biology, and Affiliated faculty of Bioengineering. He directs a multidisciplinary and multifaceted research program involving neuroscience, neurology, bioengineering, and communication disorders across the lifespan. Dr. Barlow also serves as the director of the NIH P30 DC05803 (Rice-PI) Digital Engineering and Electronics Core (DEEC) for the Center for Biobehavioral Neuroscience Communication Disorders at KU. He is currently collaborating with Dr. Anderson on a project to examine somatosensory, pupillary, and S1 cortical MEG responses to tactile input in older children and adults with autism.