Seeking a better understanding of the motor problems experienced by individuals with autism spectrum disorder

Seeking a better understanding of the motor problems experienced by individuals with autism spectrum disorder

The child in the chair looks like she’s preparing to play a video game. She leans toward the monitor in a darkened room, the dim light of the screen illuminating her face. A dot appears on screen. But instead of zapping the dot with a game controller, she tracks its movement only with her eyes. Throughout the test, a camera mounted to the monitor records the movement in fine detail: the pace, the direction, the focus. 

This test is one of several conducted at the Brain and Behavior Laboratory directed by Matt Mosconi, who also leads the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training at KU. The goal of the work is to better understand the motor problems experienced by individuals with autism spectrum disorder and to determine their bases in the brain. These motor problems include not only repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping and rocking, but also challenges with fine and gross motor skills such as walking, eating, and lifting and holding objects.

The studies have the long-term potential to teach us about the causes of both motor and related behavioral issues in autism spectrum disorder and to develop more objective, biologically based markers for developing effective treatments.

boy in lab

Now Mosconi, together with a team of investigators at KU and KU Medical Center, are recruiting research participants -- both those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and those who do not have an autism spectrum disorder, who will serve as controls. The research is part of a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health that has been underway for two years. 

In addition to the eye movement test, participants complete simple tests of movement, thinking, and brain function. Testing occurs at both at Dr. Mosconi’s laboratory off of KU’s main campus in Lawrence and at the Hoglund Brain Imaging Center at the KU Medical Center. Dr. Mosconi’s team will help coordinate each visit and will walk interested individuals through all of the procedures.

If you know an individual diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder between the ages of 10-35 years or an individual without autism spectrum disorder who would like to participate in the research, please reach out to the study coordinators by filling out this form so that a researcher can contact you, or contact them directly with any questions at 785.864.4461 or kcart@ku.edu.