Research

The Center for Translational Developmental Neuroscience (CTDN) at Yale University unites scientists, clinicians, and clinician-scientists from multiple departments across Yale in the pursuit of understanding the systems biology of neurodevelopmental disorders, with a specific emphasis on autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Already Participating? See our home page for more information about directions to our Center.

Social Communication Treatment Research

Description:
We are conducting a 16-week trial of a behaviorally based treatment—Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), in both children and adults with ASD. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we are investigating the brain-based changes in response to treatment. Thus far, the participants have made remarkable gains in social communication skills, and following treatment, brain-based responses to social information are normalized, meaning they are more similar to those of typically developing individuals.

We are also conducting PRT studies without fMRI. For example, we have a study investigating how we can use videoconferencing to train parents remotely in PRT. Please contact us for information on all of our current PRT studies.

Link to relevant faculty home page:
Pamela Ventola

Gender Differences in Autism

Description:
We are home to one of nine Autism Centers for Excellence, funded via the National Institutes of Health. In our network we are dedicated to understanding the specific needs of girls and women with ASD. We are quantitatively phenotyping multiple behavioral domains and measuring several key ASD-related neural systems at the level of brain structure (sMRI), connectivity (DTI and fMRI), function (task-based and resting state fMRI), and temporal dynamics (EEG). Additionally, we are measuring copy number variation (CNV) and single nucleotide variation (SNV) for these participants and their parents, allowing us to test sex- and circuit-specific genotype-phenotype hypotheses for five candidate ASD genes and ultimately extend our methods to a search for novel sex-specific and high-risk genes. 

Link to relevant faculty home page:
Kevin Pelphrey

Behavioral Therapy Research

Description:

We evaluate neural mechanisms of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety by collecting functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with tasks of socioemotional functioning before and after treatment in 8 to 14-year-old children with high-functioning autism. Participants of this study receive 12 to 16 weeks of therapy and comprehensive clinical evaluations of autism and anxiety. 

Link to relevant faculty home page:
Denis Sukhodolsky

Description:
We examine whether reduction of anger outbursts, irritability, and aggression after CBT is paralleled by changes in areas of the brain responsible for emotion regulation and social perception. Participants complete functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) before and after treatment with CBT or supportive psychotherapy. This study provided free treatment and evaluation for children with disruptive behavior across a wide range of psychiatric diagnoses. 

Link to relevant faculty home page: 
Denis Sukhodolsky

Infant and Toddler Research

Description: 
We are beginning a population-based study of infant brain development. We will follow infants over the first year of life, tracking early brain responses to social stimuli using two neuroimaging approaches: functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during natural sleep. As part of this study, we are developing a novel measure of brain activation associated with live parent-infant interaction. At one and two years of age, we will gather in-depth assessments of the infants' social and language development. This will allow us to examine whether early differences in brain responses to social stimuli predict later differences in key areas of social functioning. We plan to then apply this work toward improving early ASD identification and intervention efforts during infancy.

Link to relevant faculty home page:
Kevin Pelphrey

Adults with Autism

Description:
VR-SCT intervention is an evidence-based treatment for adults with autism. Previous studies have shown that VR-SCT intervention is effective in improving social skills, social cognition, and social functioning. In this study, we want to advance knowledge of its effects from a neural systems perspective. Specifically, we are assessing the enhancements in brain function and structure driven by VR-SCT.

Link to relevant faculty home page:
Daniel Yang

Description:
Pivotal Response Treatment is a behaviorally-based treatment program for social communication skills. Historically, PRT has primarily been utilized in young children. We are adapting PRT principles into an adult treatment model, given the dearth of empirically validated treatments for adults. Thus far, we have had significant success in supporting social communication skills in adults with ASD. In addition to clinical successes, we are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the brain-based changes in response to treatment and have found significant changes at the brain level following treatment; after treatment, the neural responses of individuals with ASD are more similar to those of typically developing individuals.

Link to relevant faculty home page:
Pamela Ventola

Description: 

Yale School of Medicine and The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation for Adult Autism Launch Groundbreaking Endowment Fund

On September 11, 2014, The Yale University Center for Translational Developmental Neuroscience of the Child Study Center at Yale School of Medicine, and The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation will mark the establishment of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Adult Autism Research Fund.

This endeavor will be the first endowed fund in the nation dedicated exclusively to supporting research projects related to adults living with autism spectrum disorders. Research projects endowed by the Fund will be led by Roger J. Jou, MD, PhD, who is a leading autism researcher, and one of the few physician-scientists in the nation who has dedicated his career to the research and care of adults living with autism. 

“Autism is a life-long condition, most of which is spent in adulthood,” says Dr. Jou. “For over 100 years, the Yale Child Study Center has been committed to the research and service of children and families; however, I’m pleased to say we have moved away from this exclusivity,” explains Dr. Jou, who later adds, “Our partnership with The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation represents an expansion of our commitment to include adults of all ages living with autism.”

The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Adult Autism Research Fund will endure in perpetuity and will ensure that vital and needed research will expand and continue to focus on how autism affects individuals throughout their adult lives,” says Linda J. Walder, Founder and Executive Director of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation. “Currently in 2014 there is virtually no research being done relating to adults and autism so this collaboration will lead the nation and hopefully inspire others to pursue this track,” adds Walder. The Fund will be established by two grants totaling $100,000 and will be poised to begin research endeavors in 2015.

The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation, (http://www.djfiddlefoundation.org) the first not –for- profit and only all-volunteer-run national organization to focus on adults living with Autism has been blazing trails that create opportunities for the diverse population of people living with autism to live, work and recreate in their communities by developing, advocating for and funding programs throughout the United States since 2002. In addition to a wide array of replicable model programs that include residential programs in farmsteads, suburbia and urban settings, employment programs that train students in transition into adult life and offer jobs, and recreational endeavors ranging from yoga to art to music and equestrian and hiking programs, The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation has pioneered much-needed resources that enhance and enable productive lives for individuals living with autism. These resources address critical needs and are offered free of charge to the public and include booklets on topics such as Autism and Epilepsy, Autism and Faith, a handbook for college students on the spectrum and a pocket-size travel training guide. Linda J. Walder, the Founder and Executive Director of the organization named for her son Danny who passed away at age 9, is a leading national advocate and has been instrumental in developing public policy that addresses the needs of all people living with Autism and their families.

Link to relevant faculty home page: 
Roger Jou

Description: 
Little is known about the course of autism through adulthood; even basic information about age-related neuroanatomical changes has not yet been established. This is particularly concerning given that some developmental disabilities are characterized by early-onset dementia or rapidly progressive neurodegeneration. In this study, we are recruiting a large sample of well-characterized individuals at different stages across adulthood and characterizing neuroanatomical and neurofunctional differences at each developmental stage using structural, diffusion, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Link to relevant faculty home page: 
Roger Jou

Description: 
The Center for Translational Developmental Neuroscience (CTDN) at Yale University is an emerging leader in adult autism, performing cutting-edge neuroscience research and pioneering innovative treatments and programs designed specifically for adults living with autism. In collaboration with leading adult autism organizations such as The Hilibrand Foundation and The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation, the CTDN has developed the Partnership for Adult Autism Research and Treatment (PAART) to mend the void in adult services while simultaneously accelerating the research and development necessary for more permanent solutions. This novel partnership is a synergistic collaboration between community and university which integrates clinical and research enterprises.

Link to relevant faculty home page: 
Roger Jou

Regression

Description:
Regression, a loss of developmental milestones, has been associated with ASD since it was first described. This study aims to learn more about regression, and how the brains of children with regression differ from children with non-regressive autism. In this ongoing study, we will see young children, adolescents, and young adults for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and psychological testing. We encourage all families and individuals to participate in a blood draw for genetic analysis. We are very interested in recruiting all children with regression to this study, including those diagnosed with Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), and those with normal development for their first two years. 

Link to relevant faculty home page: 
Alexander WestphalAbha Gupta

Siblings

Description: 
We are using multimodal neuroimaging approaches to understand the neurobiology of autism and unaffected siblings. Modalities used currently include structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, diffusion MRI, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), and electroencephalography (EEG). Efforts are made to identify endophenotypes, intermediate phenotypes, and biomarkers.

Link to relevant faculty home page:
Kevin Pelphrey

Drug & Hormone Studies

Description:
Currently, there are no medications available to treat core symptoms of autism such as social behavior and communication deficits. We will be conducting clinical trials to evaluate investigational drugs and other medications in individuals with autism. Qualified participants will receive an initial study-related consultation, study-related examinations, active study medication and/or placebo (an inactive substance), and compensation.

Link to relevant faculty home page: 
Roger Jou

Description:
This study is designed to teach us how brain function is impacted by the neuro-hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced naturally in the brain and has some effects on behavior. It has been associated with sociability, love, reduced anxiety, and increased trust, memory, and learning abilities. This research project evaluates the influence of oxytocin administration on brain function in tasks relating to affect processing in typically developing individuals and individuals with ASD.

Group Intervention

Description:
Social skills groups are among the most commonly used treatments for ASD; however, they currently lack robust and objective research support. We are developing new methods for improving social skills in motivated children, adolescents and adults with ASD. Our novel investigational methods are compared with more conventional approaches to social skills groups. In some protocols, participants receive both interventions (convention or experimental) at separate times. Outcome measures reflect changes directly influencing quality of life in participants with ASD.

Link to relevant faculty home page: 
Julie Wolf, Kathy Koenig, Roger Jou

Additional Sites

Escaping and avoiding negative emotions is a primary process cutting across a broad range of neuropsychiatric disorders that involve distress. The rewarding properties of relief from distress support avoidance in anxiety, addiction and maladaptive parenting practices. We are using neuroimaging to characterize the neural circuitry avoidance across development. A second aim of this research is to understand how stable patterns of avoidance can be undone, a core aim in many mental health treatments.

Link to relevant faculty home page:
Michael Crowley