2017 SEED GRANT AWARDS

RESEARCH PROJECT: Role of Music on Electrocortical and Autonomic Functions in Boys and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder
INVESTIGATORS: Sylvie Goldman, Assistant Professor of Neuropsychology, Columbia University Medical Center
Nim Tottenham, Associate Professor of Psychology, Columbia University
Michael M. Myers, Professor of Behavioral Biology in Psychiatry and Pediatrics, Columbia University Medical Center
Rebecca M. Jordan-Young, Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Barnard College.
DESCRIPTION: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by early onset of social and communication impairments and repetitive and restricted behaviors. Although the etiology of ASD remains unclear, there is evidence of atypical neuropathology characterized by abnormal development of the limbic system and cerebellum. So far, the diagnosis of autism relies solely on clinical assessment and no specific biomarkers are available. While the skewed male prevalence is relatively consistent across the spectrum, and generally assumed to be biologically based, little focus has been placed on the diagnostic process itself and the role of social factors such as gender behavioral stereotypes. Similarly, sex/gender differences are not considered when making treatment recommendations.

Longitudinal studies emphasize the acquisition of speech as positive predictors for ASD. As such, the majority of interventions designed for these young children target language processing, social communication, and reciprocity. Notably, based on clinical findings and common childhood education practices, many successful interventions in ASD incorporate musical features to foster social responsiveness. Yet, very few studies have studied the neurological underpinnings of speech versus music processing in young children with ASD and the effect on core emotion dysregulation and arousal state.

The aims of this study are twofold, (1) To identify differences in electrocortical (EEG) and autonomic functions (heart rate, vagal tone) between typically developing (TD) children and children with ASD (ages 3 to 5) with regard to speech versus music processing. (2) To examine how these differences are modulated by the sex of the child. The overall goal is to determine if music normalizes EEG and autonomic differences between the groups and whether there are interactions between music and sex/gender in these outcomes. In all, developing EEG, objective, quantifiable, neurophysiological measures of brain responses to social and cognitive inputs will help identify (a) predictors for best outcome and (b) subgroups of young children likely to respond to specific evidence-based treatment while many unsuccessful or minimally efficient treatments are costly to families and society. We will take advantage of Drs. Myers’ and Tottenham’s expertise in developmental neurophysiology and affect processing to analyze group differences and explore how these measures represent potential biomarkers of ASD. Under Dr. Jordan-Young’s guidance, the findings will be also interpreted from a dynamic sex and gender perspective.

RESEARCH PROJECT: Establishing a Leading Role for Columbia University in the Development of Trauma-Informed Policy and Programs for New York City
INVESTIGATORS: Virginia Rauh, Professor of Population and Family Health, Columbia University Medical Center
Kimberly Noble, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Education, Teachers College
Dan Press, Adjunct Professor in the Center for Study of Ethnicity and Race, Columbia University.
DESCRIPTION: Research at Columbia University investigating the impact of childhood adversity on the brain has significant potential to inform public policy and programs designed to ameliorate the health and developmental consequences of early life adversity. In this proposal, we outline a strategy for establishing Columbia University as a leader in promoting New York City as a ‘Trauma-Informed’ city. Our goals are to (1) create an interdisciplinary university-wide collaborative for Columbia University researchers with expertise in child health and neurodevelopment; (2) develop a plan for building capacity in the people, organizations, systems and communities of New York City to more effectively serve children and families impacted by stress and adversity; (3) implement this plan in stages with the involvement of Columbia university faculty, staff and students, using a service learning model; (4) engage with governmental, non-profit and commercial entities in New York City that deliver services and programs serving children and families for the purpose of increasing awareness of trauma-informed services and policies; and (5) obtain external funding to support this city-wide trauma-informed effort going forward.

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