Enhancement Mini-Grants 2013

These grants are intended to enable scientists to expand the scope or increase the efficiency of existing grants, or to take advantage of changes or findings that have occurred in or around the project that warrant more funding.  Six projects were selected for funding in 2013.


Dr. Pamela Ventola: Yale University
Sex Differences in the Nueral Mechanisms of Treatment Response
Because of the skewed sex ratio in autism, prior treatment studies have not permitted inference regarding differential treatment response in boys and girls. Here we study how girls respond to an empirically supported behavioral treatment approach, Pivotal Response Training (PRT), to foster development of more effective treatments for girls and boys. We will assess treatment outcome at the behavioral and brain-based level, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to better understand how the trreatment works and to identify possible brain-based markers that may predict magnitude of treatment response. 
Dr. Jessica Suhrheinrich: University of California San Diego
Use of Real Time Video Feedback to Enhance Teacher Training
Although evidence‐based practices for educating children with autism are being applied and studied in school settings, there is less information about the best ways to train teachers to use these practices. In this project, teachers of students with autism receive training and on‐going coaching in an adapted evidence‐based practice. The ASF research enhancement funding will support an investigation of the benefit of immediate video feedback, as compared to verbal and written feedback alone, during classroom coaching sessions.
Dr. Aaron Shield: Boston University
The Effects of Autism on the Sign Language Development of Deaf Children
This grant will fund additional data collection and travel to schools for deaf children around the U.S., thus expanding the control group of typically-developing deaf children to compare to deaf children with ASD. Findings from this study will inform the eventual adaptation diagnostic and screening instruments for use with deaf and hard-of-hearing children, as well as future interventions with deaf and hard-of-hearing children with ASD.
Dr. Adam Naples: Yale University
Cross-Modal Automated Assessment of Behavior during Social Interactions in Children with ASD
This grant will enhance ongoing research exploring brain activity in children with autism during simulated social interactions. By using novel technologies to evaluate facial expression, gaze, and affect, on-screen social partners will respond to children's behavior in real-time. For example, computerized faces will "smile back" in response to a child's facial expressions. This study will investigate the brain mechanisms of multimodal reciprocal social interaction for the first time. 
Dr. Haruki Higashimori: Tufts University
Role of Astrocytic Glutamate Transporter GLT1 in Fragile X Syndrome
One of the crucial functions of astrocytes in the healthy brain is to maintain very low levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate. This is accomplished by removal of excess glutamate through specialized glutamate transporters, such as GLT1, which are specifically found on astrocytes. Recently, we discovered that Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) mice have fewer and more dysfunctional GLT1 transporters. In this mini-grant we propose to expand on our findings in the rodent brain. We propose to evaluate human brain tissue samples to assess whether there is a similar alteration in human glutamate transporter in FXS and autism patients. This study will be the first to address whether human astrocyte dysfunction contributes to the development of FXS, and may identify an important new target for restoration of normal brain development in both FXS and autism patients. 
Dr. Gazi Azad: University of Pennsylvania
Partners in Schools: A Program for Parents and Teachers of Children with Autism
The goal of Partners In School is to develop and test a program that will improve parent-teacher communication about interventions for diverse children with autism attending public schools. With support from this enhancement grant, I will compensate parents and teachers for their participation, hire a student for data collection and management, and receive training from the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools. Successful completion of this project will result in a new culturally sensitive tool for communication improvement, which is the first step for fostering family-school partnerships for children with autism.