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Research / Discovery

Autism research continues at Colorado State

May 25, 2010

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies takes an interdisciplinary approach to generating, disseminating, and applying knowledge about human development across the lifespan, in the context of family, culture, and society. Research currently underway in the department includes projects aimed at unraveling the mysteries of autism and autism spectrum disorders.

Karen Caplovitz Barrett is in the final stages of a collaborative research study comparing children with autism and Williams syndrome.

Complex developmental disability

A driving force behind the research in Human Development and Family Studies, is the commitment to the application of research findings to programs and policies that enhance the lives of individuals and families.

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others.

Emotions and emotion regulation

Karen Caplovitz Barrett, professor and assistant department head in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and her colleagues, are in the final stages of research comparing children with autism and Williams syndrome, a rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorder.

The research focuses on emotions and emotion regulation and is in collaboration with Deborah Fidler (scroll down), associate professor of human development and family studies at CSU, and Susan Hepburn, a researcher with the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Different outcomes, different disorders

Differences in the interrelations of emotional responses, emotion regulation, and social interaction between young children with autism and those with Williams syndrome are being examined.

These two disorders are associated with behavior that seems opposite in many respects, with Williams syndrome being characterized by hypersociality, and autism being associated with withdrawal from and discomfort with social interaction.

Difficulties forming, maintaining friendships

Yet, despite these great differences in propensity to interact with others, both disorders are characterized by difficulties in forming and maintaining true friendships.

One possible factor in this is difficulties with emotion regulation. There is much evidence that emotion regulation is an essential skill for interpersonal relationships, and there is evidence that both individuals with Williams syndrome and autism are at risk for diagnosis of anxiety disorders -- disorders that involve difficulty managing fear and anxiety.

Autism in children with Down syndrome

Deborah Fidler has been working on a study to determine how common it is for children who are born with Down syndrome to also be diagnosed with autism or autism spectrum disorders.

Deborah Fidler, an associate professor in human development and family studies and applied social psychology, has collaborated on a study that aimed to estimate the prevalence of autism and autism spectrum disorder in children with Down syndrome.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention funded study is a collaboration between Fidler's Developmental Disabilities Research Laboratory, the Autism Research Team at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the Colorado Department of Health, and several other Colorado agencies.

The Colorado team is one of two teams in the U.S. working to determine how common it is for children who are born with Down syndrome to also be diagnosed with autism or autism spectrum disorder. In addition, the Colorado team is aiming to describe how autism is manifested in children with Down syndrome when it is present.

Findings currently in press

Findings regarding the prevalence of Down syndrome and autism are currently in press in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Additional findings regarding the nature of the behavioral profile of children with Down syndrome and autism and currently being analyzed and will be submitted for publication in late 2010.

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