Congratulations Dr. Katie Bangert!

Congratulations Dr. Katie Bangert!

Dr. Katie Bangert joined the Neurodevelopmental Disorders (NDD) Lab and the SC Family Experiences Lab as a postdoctoral fellow in 2020, following the completion of her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Bangert was a vital member of the NDD Lab, overseeing the management of physiological data processing and providing oversight to undergraduate students volunteering in the lab. While at the UofSC, her research focused on language development in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders and the relationship between language and physiological regulation. Following the completion of her postdoctoral fellowship in the summer of 2022, she accepted an Assistant Professor position in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. She will be missed at the lab, but we are all excited to see what Dr. Bangert does next!


Conner Black at 2019 Gatlinburg Conference

Graduate Student Conner Black Joins Nationwide Children’s Hospital

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Conner Black, a doctoral student in the School Psychology program and a valued member of the Neurodevelopmental Disorders Lab team, has accepted an internship at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Conner Black, also known as “Mr. Conner,” joined the NDD Lab in 2017. During this time, Conner has completed over 85 assessments, authored 16 conference presentations, and authored, or co-authored, four papers.

During his time at the NDD Lab, Conner’s primary research interests were investigating prodromal features of social anxiety in infants with fragile X syndrome and the utilization of ERP methodology to assess neurophysiological markers of anxiety. In 2019, he was awarded a SPARC Graduate Research Grant entitled “Biological Mechanisms Related to Social Anxiety in Young Children with Fragile X Syndrome.”

Conner will be missed at the NDD Lab, but we are excited to see what he does next!


Erin Hunt

Erin Hunt Awarded SPARC Grant

Erin Hunt, a Clinical-Community Psychology Doctoral Student in the NDD Lab, was awarded a Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity (SPARC) Graduate Research Grant from the UofSC Office of the Vice President for Research. Erin’s project, “Inhibitory Control in Children with Fragile X Syndrome: Biological Underpinnings, Familial Predictors, and Functional Outcomes,” investigates the development of inhibitory control in children with fragile X syndrome and its relationship to executive functioning.

Check out the full list of 2022 SPARC awardees (including former NDD Lab research specialist Carly Moser) on the Office of the Vice President for Research’s webpage!


Conner Black, Elizabeth Will, and Kayla Smith

Recent Publications from the NDD Lab

Three members of the NDD Lab received notification that their submitted papers were set to be published! Conner Black, doctoral student, had his paper “Early behavioral and physiological markers of social anxiety in infants with fragile X syndrome” published in the Journal for Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Dr. Elizabeth Will, postdoctoral researcher, had her paper “Associated Mechanisms of Goal Directed Behavior in Infants and Young Children with Down Syndrome” published in Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Kayla Smith, research specialist, had her paper “Attention Bias and Prodromal Anxiety Symptoms in Toddlers With Fragile X Syndrome and Down Syndrome” published in the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Keep an eye out in future Research Round-Ups for summaries of these new publications!


Man reading a book to child

Research Round-Up #8

Autism Spectrum Disorder-Associated Behavior in Infants with Down Syndrome
Approximately 20% of children with Down syndrome (DS) meet the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which suggests that children with DS are at elevated risk for ASD. In this study, researchers were interested in analyzing how infants with DS and typically developing (TD) infants differed in terms of ASD-associated behavior. Participants included 18 infants with DS, aged 7 to 18 months, and 18 TD infants, aged 9-14 months. The researchers used a play-based observation to observe ASD-associated behavior, along with a standardized assessment to measure developmental skills. The data collected showed that 7 out of 18 infants with DS were at risk for ASD, while only 2 TD infants met criteria for ASD-risk. The results of this study provide further evidence for the claim that children with DS are at an elevated risk for co-morbid ASD. In addition, these results suggest that early screening for ASD in children with DS may be a necessary measure.

Parent Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication Integration for Children With Fragile X Syndrome: It Starts in the Home
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is used to assist children who have language impairments. However, few studies have analyzed the use of AAC and its effectiveness in children with FXS, who also exhibit difficulties with communication. In this study, researchers analyzed the home-use of AAC in five children with FXS, aged 4 to 12 years old. The researchers collected data using home visits to observe the children using AAC and conducted interviews with the children’s mothers to gain a better understanding of whether or not AAC benefited their child. The AAC tools used by the children in this study included devices with vocabulary presented on a grid display, Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), and visual supports. The mothers reported that AAC was useful when the children had simple requests and found that it contributed to their communication development. On the other hand, the mothers did have some concerns about the devices, including their language simplicity, cost, and portability. All mothers wanted the AAC tools to foster deeper conversations rather than simple requests. In addition, they found the devices to be costly and not practical when traveling outside the home. Despite these limitations, the mothers found AAC to be beneficial in supporting the children’s communication and language development. The results of this study suggest AAC interventions could be beneficial for children with FXS, but the technology accessibility could be improved.

Brief Report: A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effects of RECALL (Reading to Engage Children with Autism in Language and Learning) for Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Shared book reading can contribute to the development of oral language and literacy skills. However, previous research has shown that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) spend less time on shared book reading and enjoy it less compared to their peers. To combat this, an intervention known as Reading to Engage Children with Autism in Language and Literacy (RECALL) was created to support reading and language development in children with ASD. In order to analyze its effectiveness, researchers recruited 31 preschoolers with ASD, aged 3 to 6 years, and their caregivers and had them participate in the RECALL intervention. Seventeen parent-child dyads were randomly assigned to the experimental group and 14 were assigned to the control group. Parents in the experimental group attended training workshops in which they were trained on how to read to their child using the RECALL method, while parents in the control group did not receive training. Both groups were provided with the same reading materials and were asked to read to their children twice per week for 6 weeks.

Data was collected on emotion situation knowledge, responsiveness and engagement in reading session, and receptive vocabulary both before and after the 6-week period. Results showed that children in the experimental group improved more on emotion situation knowledge and story comprehension compared to children in the control group. When comparing scores before and after the intervention, results showed that children in the experimental group improved in receptive vocabulary, reciprocity in verbal communication, and engagement in shared book reading. On the other hand, children in the control group only improved in receptive vocabulary. Overall, the results of this study suggest that children with ASD could improve their reading and language development through shared book reading and the use of RECALL.


Felicia McGill

NDD Lab Undergrad Felicia McGill Named Goldwater Scholar

We are so excited to share that Felicia McGill was recently named a Goldwater Scholar! Felicia joined the lab as a freshman and has quickly proven herself to be a passionate researcher and motivated scholar. In addition to her research experience in the NDD Lab, Felicia had a summer research opportunity at Princeton University and a Spanish-immersion study abroad at University of Puerto Rico. She is also the recipient of a Gilman Scholarship for study abroad. She plans to study for a doctorate in neuroscience and continue autism research, focusing on language development and bilingualism.

Congratulations, Felicia!


Bridgette Kelleher with materials from the PANDABox

Research Round-Up #7

Bringing the Laboratory Home: PANDABox Telehealth-Based Assessment of Neurodevelopmental Risk in Children
Collecting data on children with neurodevelopmental disorders can be difficult considering the time and cost of researchers traveling to their home. To combat this, researchers developed the PANDABox (Parent Administered Neurodevelopmental Assessment), which allows caregivers to facilitate a home-based assessment to monitor early developmental features and collect lab-grade data on children’s behaviors and biomarkers (see photo above). To measure the effectiveness of the PANDABox, 16 infants with Down syndrome (DS), aged 5 to 19 months, and their caregivers participated in this study. Caregivers were sent the PANDABox, which contains a computer, two heart rate monitors, a webcam, two vocal recorders, and a variety of task materials. The caregivers conducted a series of tasks with their children to provide data that measures behaviors relevant to early clinical risks. During the assessment, the caregiver used a secure teleconferencing and remote connection software to stay connected with the research assistants. This allowed the research assistants to observe, control the computer, and troubleshoot any difficulties during the assessment.

Overall, the PANDABox was well-received by families, with caregivers reporting their satisfaction level as “good” or “excellent” on 97% of post-assessment survey questions. It was effective in generating high quality clinical and behavioral data, with 94% of data being acceptable. The results of this study suggest that caregiver-facilitated assessments such as PANDABox could be helpful for increasing the engagement of caregivers and children in research studies.

A comparison of functional academic and daily living skills in males with fragile X syndrome with and without autism
Daily living skills and functional academic skills can contribute to the development of independence for individuals with fragile X syndrome (FXS) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In this study, researchers measured daily living skills and functional academic skills across age groups and compared these skills to levels of independence. In addition, they analyzed and compared the levels of adaptive behaviors in individuals with FXS and individuals with both FXS and ASD. Using a parent survey, researchers gathered data about independence, daily living skills, and functional academic skills in 534 males with FXS or FXS + ASD.  The individuals with FXS or FXS + ASD ranged in age from 5 to 67 years old. To measure independence, parents were asked questions such as where their child is living, who they live with, and if they are employed. Parents rated their children’s daily living skills in the topics of hygiene, cooking, laundry and housekeeping, transportation, and safety. In addition, parents rated their children’s functional academic skills in the topics of time and schedules, money, math, reading, and writing. For these individuals, certain skills such as identifying numbers and recognizing their name were mastered at an early age, while other skills such as telling the day of the week and understanding money developed in adolescence and adulthood.

Overall, the data collected shows that many males with FXS display increased daily living skills and functional academic skills by the time they reach adulthood. Males who had only FXS had higher levels of functional academic skills, daily living skills, and independence compared to those with both FXS and ASD. Results also suggest that learning and mastering adaptive skills can lead to independence regardless of ASD diagnosis; therefore, including adaptive skills in FXS treatment could be beneficial for fostering independence.

Maternal Input and Child Language Comprehension During Book Reading in Children With Down Syndrome
Shared book reading between parent and child is helpful for strengthening language and literacy skills, especially for children who are at risk for language delays. Researchers in this study were interested in seeing how mothers of children with Down syndrome (DS) and mothers of children with typical development (TD) differ in communication and language during shared book reading with their children. In addition, they analyzed the relationship between maternal expressive communication and child receptive language. Participants included 22 children with DS and 22 children with TD, all ranging in age from 22 months to 63 months. Development, receptive language, and expressive language were measured and videos of the assessments were coded to quantify maternal and child utterances.

Results showed that children with DS used more nonword vocalizations and gestures and were less intelligible when speaking compared to children with TD. Children with DS likely used more gestures to compensate for their difficulty with spoken communication. Mothers of children with DS used more questions and prompts rather than reading the book verbatim compared to mothers of children with TD. When analyzing the relationship between maternal expressive communication and child receptive language, they found that the higher the child’s receptive language score, the less utterances their mother used. The results of this study were useful in identifying the similarities and differences of children with DS, children with TD, and their mothers’ methods of communication during shared book reading. Researchers suggest using shared book reading as a part of early intervention could be helpful in supporting vocabulary and strengthening literacy skills.


Children running

Research Round-Up #6

Mobile Technology Use and Skills Among Individuals with Fragile X Syndrome: Implications For Healthcare Decision Making
The role of technology can be beneficial for those with developmental or intellectual disabilities, but few studies have examined technology use in individuals with fragile X syndrome (FXS). In this study, researchers examined the types of technology individuals with FXS and their families use and how they use it. They also explore the technological skills individuals with FXS possess and how engaged they are when using technology. To collect this data, a survey about technology use was sent out to 185 parents of individuals with FXS. The individuals with FXS ranged in age from 12 to 46 years old.

The results of the technology use survey varied. When asked about types of technology used, 96% of participants owned a cellphone, 82% owned a laptop, and 78% owned a tablet. Approximately 43% of individuals used technology 5 to 20 hours a week. Some of the reported technology use included watching videos (65%), playing games online (29%), emailing (29%), and using social media (29%). On average, younger individuals with FXS used a wider variety of websites and apps compared to older individuals. Many parents reported that their children were actively engaged when using technology (47%), while others reported excessive engagement (20%), moderate engagement (29%), limited engagement (13%), or no engagement with technology (3%). The results of the survey demonstrate that many individuals with FXS use a variety of technology often and in many ways. The study suggests that technology can be used by individuals with FXS in ways other than social media or for enjoyment. For example, technology could be used to share health-related information or to improve informed decision making related to FXS. Overall, this study confirms that many individuals with FXS use technology in a variety of ways, which could be helpful for researchers creating FXS intervention or treatment plans involving the use of technology.

Sleep in Infants and Toddlers with Down Syndrome Compared to Typically Developing Peers: Looking Beyond Snoring
Children with Down syndrome (DS) often experience sleep problems such as restless sleep, difficulty initiating sleep, and symptoms of sleep disordered breathing. However, few studies have looked into sleep problems in children less than three years of age. In this study, researchers analyzed the sleep patterns and ecology of infants and toddlers with Down syndrome compared to those in a typically developing (TD) control group. The researchers also examined whether or not snoring status and parental behaviors explained any differences in sleep outcomes in the DS and TD groups.

Participants included 104 children with DS, aged six to thirty-six months, and 489 TD children, also aged six to thirty-six months. Parents completed an extended version of the Brief Infant Sleep Questionnaire to collect data on sleep habits and were asked basic questions about their children’s snoring status. Significant differences between groups were found when analyzing sleep patterns, parental management in night waking, and parental presence at settling to sleep patterns.  Results showed that the sleep patterns of children with DS were consistently worse in all domains compared to the group of TD children. They fell asleep later, woke up more frequently during the night, and had almost one hour less sleep on average. Researchers suggest this could partly be impacted by snoring, since 19% of children with DS snored compared to 2% of TD children. Parental behavior also impacted childhood sleep habits. Parents of children with DS were more likely to engage in active techniques to settle their child back to sleep after night waking. In addition, children with parents who stayed with them while they fell asleep were more likely to have later bedtimes and were more likely to wake up more than once during the night. While interactive parental involvement can be beneficial for the parent-child relationship, it is not beneficial when considering the child’s ability to self-soothe. Overall, this study suggests that parental behavior and snoring can impact the quality and amount of sleep children get, despite their diagnosis of DS or lack thereof. The researchers recommend that DS treatment programs should actively screen for sleep problems and should inform parents about letting their children develop healthy sleep behaviors and self-soothing skills.

Brief Report: Impact of a Physical Exercise Intervention on Emotion Regulation and Behavioral Functioning in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often struggle with emotional and behavioral difficulties. Tse (2020) conducted a study to see if a physical exercise intervention could positively impact emotional and behavioral functioning outcomes in children with ASD. A total of 27 participants with ASD, aged eight to twelve years were included in this study and were randomly assigned to the intervention group (15) or the control group (12). Children in the intervention group participated in a jogging intervention that included a total of 48 sessions over the span of 12 weeks. Children in the control group did not participate in the intervention and were instructed to continue their daily routines. Data was collected at two time points, before (T1) and after (T2) the physical exercise intervention, using the Emotion Regulation Checklist (ERC) and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). The ERC was used to measure mood, emotional expression, and self-awareness, while the CBCL was used to measure overall emotional and behavioral functioning. At T1, the scores on the ERC and the CBCL were comparable between the treatment group and the control group, however, scores at T2 showed significant differences. The treatment group’s scores on the ERC greatly increased over time, suggesting that exercise improved mood, emotional expression, and self-awareness. In addition, the treatment group’s scores on the CBCL decreased, which shows that the children had a reduction in behavioral problems after the physical exercise intervention. The control group had little to no change in scores between T1 and T2. Overall, the results of this study suggest that children with ASD can potentially benefit from a physical exercise intervention and positively influence their emotional and behavioral functioning.


Zoom screenshot of the NDD Lab virtual holiday party

child playing with colorful toys

Research Round-Up #5

Theraplay Impact on Parents and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Improvements in Affect, Joint Attention, and Social Cooperation
Theraplay is an early intervention method used to improve the relationship between children and their parents. It is a play therapy approach for treatment that uses positive interactions to impact the non-verbal aspects of children’s communication. In this study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of Theraplay with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Participants included eight children with ASD ranging in age from three to nine years old. To collect baseline data, the children and their parents participated in pre-testing two weeks before the start of intervention. Pre-testing included tasks such as putting hats on each other, playing peek-a-boo, and feeding each other a snack. Two weeks after pre-testing, the Theraplay intervention began. During the intervention, the parents and children engaged in attachment-based Theraplay activities with a trained Theraplay therapist. The treatment consisted of 19 therapy sessions over the course of nine days. The parents and children participated in two-week and three-month post-testing following the Theraplay intervention.

 To analyze the effect of Theraplay, researchers compared pre-post changes in the parent-child interactions and behavior. The results of this treatment were notable. Over time, parents displayed more facial expressions, were more responsive to their child, maintained better eye contact, and offered more guidance following the intervention. In addition, over time children became more vocal, maintained closer proximity to their parents, had better eye contact, and were more receptive to parent guidance after the intervention. The results of this study suggest that Theraplay can be a useful intervention for improving the relationship between children with ASD and their caregiver.

Behavioral Problems and Psychosocial Strengths: Unique Factors Contributing to the Behavioral Profile of Youth with Down Syndrome
In order to create beneficial treatment plans for Down syndrome (DS), the behavioral phenotype must first be defined. In this study, researchers aimed to further understand the behavioral phenotype of DS, as well as identify the strengths and weaknesses that accompany DS in children. Participants included 67 parents of children with DS ranging in age from 4 to 19 years old. Data was collected using a variety of parent-report questionnaires. The children’s developmental age, emotional and behavioral problems, and psychosocial strengths were measured using various rating scales.

On average, parents reported their children as having high amounts of social problems, attention problems, and thought problems. Data also suggested that children with DS experience less intrapersonal skills such as being self-confident, expressing their sense of humor, and identifying their own feelings. This information is useful for identifying target areas for DS treatment. On the other hand, parents most often reported their children’s psychosocial strengths as expressing and receiving affect, effectively communicating emotions, and being highly involved in the family. In order to analyze the relationships between the emotional-behavioral problems and psychosocial strengths in children with DS, researchers conducted statistical analyses. Results suggested that these problems and strengths were not mutually exclusive and are not indicative of each other. It is important to identify the children’s weakness and strengths to secure a better understanding of the DS phenotype, along with identifying areas of improvement for treatment. Psychosocial strengths could potentially be used in each individual treatment plan.

Child Challenging Behavior Influences Maternal Mental Health and Relationship Quality Over Time in Fragile X Syndrome
One of the common characteristics of fragile X syndrome (FXS) is challenging behavior, which can create strain on the mother-child relationship. Researchers were interested in how these challenging behaviors, along with maternal mental health, would impact the quality of the mother-child relationship over time. Fifty-five children with FXS and their mothers participated in this longitudinal study. Data was collected over three time periods with varying ages: Time 1 (7 to 10 years old), Time 2 (11 to 15 years old), and Time 3 (13 to 18 years old). Four assessments were used to measure mother-child closeness, the child’s challenging behaviors, maternal depressive symptoms, and maternal anxiety and anger.

As hypothesized, high rates of challenging behaviors in a child were associated with lower rates of maternal mental health and negatively influenced the mother-child relationship over time. However, high levels of maternal depression, tension/anxiety, and anger/hostility did not affect the mother-child relationship over time. This suggests that the mother’s feelings about her child are independent of her mental health problems. Fortunately, longitudinal data suggested that challenging behaviors in children with FXS drastically decrease between 9 and 15.9 years of age, which could have a positive effect on the mother-child relationship and maternal mental health. This study highlights the importance of treatment for younger children with FXS who engage in challenging behaviors, along with treatment for maternal mental health. If the challenging behaviors and maternal mental health are left untreated, it could have negative effects on the mother-child relationship.


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