Office for People With Developmental Disabilities

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Social Communication Development Laboratory

12/30/15

Elizabeth Lennon, PhD, Head
[email protected]

The mission of the Social Communication Development Laboratory is to understand the underlying causes of early social and communication deficits, and to develop strategies for earlier identification and effective treatments of these problems. We have concentrated on the study of high-medical-risk infants and toddlers who are at increased risk for impairments in autoregulatory processes, in order to determine how these impairments contribute to delayed or atypical development of social interaction and communication skills.

Our research was developed in close collaboration with the other laboratories in IBR’s Department of Infant Development, and with the former Clinical Psycholinguistics Laboratory in the Department of Psychology at IBR. Additional collaborators include Patricia Brooks, PhD, from the College of Staten Island/CUNY; Denise Aloisio, MD, and her colleagues at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune, NJ; and Barbie Zimmerman-Bier, MD, from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick, NJ.

Ongoing research projects include the following: 

  • Studying the biomedical and environmental risk factors contributing to impairments in the development of social communication skills
  • Investigating the development of emotional regulation in high-risk infants and toddlers, and the relationship between self-regulatory processes and social communication skills
  • Examining patterns of maternal responsivity that provide an optimal context for the development of social communication skills in high-risk infants
  • Identifying effective tools for differentiating between toddlers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those who have non-ASD language delays, social difficulties and/or regulatory problems

Overall, considering results across our separate studies, we find that our high-risk infants and toddlers demonstrate less effective emotion-regulation strategies, difficulty with initiation of social interaction, delayed non-verbal communication skills, language delays, and subtle deficits in social cooperation skills. Greater understanding about the ways in which better regulatory strategies modify the effects of early perinatal risk factors on later social and communication skills should lead to the development of intervention strategies designed to improve infant self-regulation and thus facilitate optimal social and communication development in high-risk infants.