Category Archives: Special Education

CEHD researchers use brain scans to predict autism in high-risk, 6-month-old infants

L-R: Jed Elison, Jason Wolff

College of Education and Human Development researchers contributed to a new study that suggests that patterns of brain activity in high-risk, 6-month-old babies may accurately predict which of them will develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 2.

The new study was published in Science Translational Medicine and led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Jed Elison, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Institute of Child Development, and Jason Wolff, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, were study co-authors. The study was conducted by the IBIS Network and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Approximately one out of 68 school-aged children in the U.S. has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, and their younger siblings are at a higher risk of developing the condition. “These findings need to be replicated, but that said, we are very excited about the potential to leverage cutting edge technology to advance the search for the earliest signs of autism,” Elison said.

For the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the brain’s functional connectivity – or how different brain regions work together – in high-risk, 6-month-old infants. The infants were considered high-risk because they have an older sibling with autism. Overall, 59 high-risk infants were included in the study. Eleven of the infants were diagnosed with ASD at 2 years old and 48 were not.

The researchers applied machine learning algorithms to the infants’ brain scans to identify patterns that separated them into the two groups. They then applied the algorithm to each of the infants to predict which infants would later be diagnosed with ASD. The algorithm correctly predicted nine of the 11 infants who were later diagnosed with ASD and all 48 of the infants who were not later diagnosed with the condition.

According to the researchers, if replicated, the results could provide a clinically valuable tool for detecting ASD in high-risk infants before symptoms set in. This in turn would allow researchers to test the effectiveness of interventions on a population of high-risk infants who have been identified as having a greater risk of ASD based on their brain scan at 6 months of age.

“The researchers will now try to confirm their findings in larger groups of children. But they already have provided proof of principle that it’s possible to detect ASD long before children show the first visible signs of the condition,” NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., wrote in a blog about the study. “The findings could pave the way for developing more cost-effective mobile neuroimaging tools, which might be used in early ASD screening.”

In February 2017, Elison and Wolff contributed to a separate study that used MRI scans of high-risk infants conducted at 6 and 12 months of age to accurately predict which infants would later meet criteria for ASD at age 2. The method used in the new study would only require one scan at 6 months of age.

“This is really interdisciplinary science at its very best, and I anticipate it will eventually lead to improved outcomes for children and families,” Wolff said. “The ability to predict autism in infancy opens the door for something that has long been improbable: pre-symptomatic intervention.”

Rose Vukovic receives ‘Thank a Teacher’ note from student

Rose Vukovic headshot
Rose Vukovic

The Center for Education Innovation’s (CEI), Thank a Teacher program allows students to provide unsolicited feedback by sending thank you notes to teachers who make a positive difference on their achievement and development. Dr. Rose Vukovic, director of undergraduate studies and associate professsor in the special education program continues to impact students’ lives. Recently, she received an official letter from CEI with a “thank you” note from a former student.

The note reads:

“Hello, Dr. Vukovic!

I’m writing to thank you for all of your support and encouragement when I was taking your class, EPSY 2601, in Spring 2015. You encouraged me to do the Blind Inclusion in group work presentation to help my classmates know how to interact with me. That was a small presentation, and I just finished studying English.

I’m happy to inform you that now I have developed 3 big trainings on how to interact with people with visual impairments, starting with access assistants, then one for professors, and now I’m working on one for students in college-level settings to help everyone take an action to make people with disability feel included in this university. I may not have done all of these projects if you had not given me the chance to present in class.

You saw my strengths even though I just finished studying English and my grammar writing wasn’t too strong. I would like to thank you so much for everything you have done for me. I will never forget how you inspired me. A huge thank you for you and wishing you all the best!

– Roqayah”

Have you had a teacher that has made a difference in your education? Thank them here.

Vukovic, colleagues host leadership institute for Ghanaian female educators

this year's GIFTED cohort
This year’s GIFTED cohort

May 29 – June 6, Rose Vukovic, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Educational Psychology  and associate professor in the special education program at the University of Minnesota and Kristie Patten Koenig, associate professor and chair of Occupational Therapy at New York University (NYU)–Steinhardt—along with Sakina Aquah and Priscilla Yaaba Ackah from University of Education, Winneba—hosted a leadership institute for a group of female teachers from Ghana. The work is part of the Ghanaian Institute for the Future of Teaching and Education (GIFTED) which is supported by the larger Ghana Wins! project, a professional development program that aims to build capacity in women leaders in education.

This year’s GIFTED cohort attended a week-long workshop in New York City to analyze the results of their leadership action projects to support educational outcomes in Ghanaian schools. They visited local schools and participated in “coffee talks” with NYU faculty on women and leadership. The educators also had the opportunity experience American culture by doing things like eating pizza, taking the subway, and visiting the Statue of Liberty.  The culmination of their training happened on June 2 when they sharing the resulted of their leadership action projects in an educational symposium at NYU –Steinhardt. Here are just a few examples of the work they are doing in Ghanaian schools.

  • Slimba, head teacher, Supporting Education for Muslim Girls: Slimba is engaging the community chief, the Imam, the Parent Teacher Association, parents and several local mosques to increase the enrollment of Muslim girls in her school.
  • Patience, primary school teacher, Market Day Attendance: Upper primary school students often miss school on market days to work at the market. To improve attendance, Patience is engaging these students through cultural dance and drama performances.
  • Serwaa, primary school teacher, Single Mothers Support Groups: Serwaa has created a social support network for single mothers in her school community. By organizing sessions that aim to build a supportive community for single mothers, she hopes to increase the school attendance of their children.

Read the GIFTED newsletter for more examples of leadership action projects.

Following the educational symposium, the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development hosted a reception honoring the achievements of the group.

Future work

This summer, Kristen McMaster, coordinator and professor in the special education program at the University of Minnesota, will travel to Ghana with the group to help the GIFTED fellows work on peer assisted leadership strategies (PALS). According to the Institute for Learning Sciences, PALS is a peer-tutoring instructional program that supplements the primary reading curriculum by pairing students who work together on reading activities intended to improve reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.

About GIFTED

Focused on strengthening the leadership capacity and visibility of female educators as leaders within the Ghanaian public education system, GIFTED provides professional development, on-going support, and leadership training to 12 women educators per year. These GIFTED fellows participate in a year-long transformational leadership curriculum, where they develop and implement action projects that support educational outcomes in their schools. GIFTED was started in June 2013 and is a collaboration between NYU, the University of Minnesota , the University of Education Winneba, and Mujeres por Africa and is sponsored by Banco Santander.

Vukovic is co-principal investigator on the project which led by Kristie Patten Koenig, principal investigator from NYU.  Local partners are Sakina Aquah and Priscilla Yaaba Ackahat from the University of Education, Winneba.

Special education student receives Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle award

Andrea Boh

Andrea Boh, Ph.D. student in the special education program in the Department of Educational Psychology, has been awarded a Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle (WPLC) award for graduate students.

The WPLC award is for women graduate students to recognize their achievements and successes in their field of interest. The criteria for the award includes academic achievements, community involvement, leadership, and passion for the academic and professional career of choice.

Since starting the Ph.D. program, Ms. Boh has taught multiple educational psychology courses, including EPsy 5361, 5362, and 5633. Additionally, she worked with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) as a Leadership in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (LEND) fellow. This experience allowed her to design and develop a project that focused on determining the extent to which Minnesota Licensed Childcares are conducting standardized developmental screening. As a research assistant on Dr. Veronica Fleury’s team, she investigated caregiver and child engagement in book reading for both children with typical development and those with an autism spectrum disorder.

Working with Dr. LeAnne Johnson as a research assistant in the coming year, Ms. Boh will coach and support early childhood special educators implementing an intervention aimed at remediating core deficits in preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder.

Former Vukovic student accepts tenure-track position at Stanford University

Steven O. Roberts, Ph.D. received his undergraduate degree in Applied Psychology from New York University (NYU) in 2012. It was there he first worked with Rose Vukovic, current director of undergraduate studies and associate professor in the special education program in the Department of Educational Psychology. Robert’s experience with Vukovic inspired him to pursue more research opportunities and earn a Ph.D. in developmental psychology at University of Michigan. In July, Roberts will begin work at Stanford University as an assistant professor of psychology.

In an interview by NYU, Roberts highlights his undergraduate experience working with Vukovic.

“My experience at NYU was fabulous. I had the wonderful opportunity of working with Rose K. Vukovic. We did work on low-income minority children and their mathematics achievements. I was very involved in the process, by working closely with the schools in New York City. Eventually, Rose gave me the opportunity to work on an honors thesis on the topic, which introduced me to the research process,” says Roberts.

Through research, Roberts learned valuable skills to be successful in this field.

“The research process helped me learn how to engage with children while collecting data and conducting interviews. It taught me about data entry, management, and analysis. More importantly, the research process taught me how to write up scientific work. I presented my thesis at a few conferences, which helped teach me how to share my research with the scientific community.”

Read the full interview.

Jitendra: Creating better strategies for teaching math word problems

Asha Jitendra

Asha Jitendra, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program recently authored an article in CEHD Vision 20:20 about her work with schema-based instruction, which teaches students to focus on the underlying structure of math word problems.

I became interested in looking for better ways to teach math problems because of my daughter, who suffered brain damage in early childhood which inhibited her development of language skills. Despite this delay in developing language, she showed great understanding of mathematical concepts at an early age…However, she continued to have a difficult time solving math word problems,” says Jitendra.

Read the full article.

KARE 11 asks Jason Wolff: ‘Do vaccines cause autism?’

Jason Wolff

In a recent interview with KARE 11 News reporter Kent Ehrdahl, Jason Wolff, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program and coordinator for the autism spectrum disorder certificate program, was asked, “Do vaccines cause autism?”

“I can’t really think of something that we’ve delved into more than this to settle it,” Wolff told Ehrdahl. “There are well over 100 studies that have shown there is no link between vaccines and autism, and they’ve looked at every possible side of that issue, and they’ve found nothing time and time again.”

Wolff went on to cite his recent research on the development of autism spectrum disorder with assistant professor Jed Elison from the Institute of Child Development and other colleagues across the country.

“We found that the brain is changing in autism, probably before six months of age, and certainly by six months of age,” Wolff explained. “This is well before children are receiving a lot of their vaccines…. autism develops slowly over time, probably starts in utero.”

Watch the full KARE 11 News segment.

Deno honored in Learning Disability Quarterly

Stanley L. Deno
Stanley L. Deno

Stanley L. Deno—professor emeritus until his passing on October 12, 2016—recently was honored with a tribute in Learning Disability Quarterly entitled “An Uncommon Man’s Uncommon Achievement.”

Former students of Deno’s and alumni from the University of Minnesota wrote the article in recognition of his career, influence, and persona. The piece highlights Denos work developing curriculum-based measurement (CBM)—simple indicators index student strengths in reading, writing, and math that measure performance over time. Today, CBM is a set of federally-recognized procedures that teachers use nationwide to identify and help special education students with mild disabilities who are underperforming in the classroom.

Read the full tribute.

CEHD research on the development of autism featured in Spectrum

L-R: Jed Elison, Jason Wolff

Jason Wolff, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, was recently featured in a Spectrum article about his research using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in infants whose older siblings have autism. Wolff worked with a national team of researchers, including Jed Elison from the Institute for Child Development, on the study. Wolff and colleagues found that the development of specific brain circuits may predict the severity of repetitive and sensory behaviors in infants who later develop autism.

In the article, Spectrum explains, “repetitive behaviors, such as hand flapping, are a cardinal sign of autism”, and “children with these severe repetitive behaviors often also have unusual sensory features, such as sensitivities to sounds or textures or an insensitivity to pain.”

Wolff expands on this. “They both (repetitive behaviors and unusual sensory features) seem to share a similar relationship with underlying neural circuitry,” he says.

Read the full article.

Hansen-Burke, Johnson honored with Outstanding Advising and Mentoring Awards

Annie Hansen-Burke, senior lecturer and field placement coordinator in school psychology program  and LeAnne Johnson, assistant professor in the special education program and coordinator for the early childhood special education (ECSE) licensure and M.Ed. program, were recently honored by Council of Graduate Students with 2016-2017 Outstanding Advising and Mentoring Awards.

During a May 1 awards and recognition ceremony at Coffman Memorial Union, the following student comments were shared.

Annie Hansen-Burke

Dr. Annie Hansen-Burke is someone all students in our program feel comfortable talking to. She is someone I have scheduled an appointment with just to talk about my professional goals, issues with the program, or my insecurities and deepest concerns.  Everything that is communicated to her is said in confidence, and she responds with the utmost care and support.”

LeAnne Johnson

“…An outstanding advisor and mentor listens and guides; educates and cares about the mentee professionally and personally; is accessible as both a resource and sounding board; provides specific and positive support that includes constructive criticism; and is a well-respected and successful contributing member to his/her field…Dr. Johnson embodies each of these qualities.”

The Council of Graduate Students (COGS) recognizes faculty members for their exceptional contributions to graduate education. Only COGS awards express the appreciation of the graduate student body. The awards are created, nominations made, and winners selected by graduate students. The Outstanding Advising and Mentoring Award is co-sponsored by the Council of Graduate Students and the Student Conflict Resolution Center.

Congratulations to Dr. Johnson and Dr. Hansen-Burke on their well-deserved awards!

Special ed Ph.D. students named CEC Division for Research Student Scholars

Jaeyhun Shin and Gena Nelson, Ph.D. students in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, have been selected to participate in the Doctoral Student Scholars program on behalf of the Council for Exceptional Children’s (CEC – DR) Division of Research. Shin and Nelson were  chosen through a competitive process, including participating in virtual seminars and online discussions during the school year.

The two students participated in a colloquium at the CEC conference on April 21 in Boston and were recognized that afternoon during the DR business meeting.

Designed to foster connections among students at different universities and contribute to raising the standard of research in the field, DRDSS aims to answer, “What makes for excellence in special education research?”

Learn more about CEC-DR.

Ed Psych research on debunking misinformation around autism featured in Connect

Panayiota Kendeou, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s psychological foundations of education program, Veronica Fleury, assistant professor in the special education program, and postdoctoral fellow Gregory Trevors were recently featured in a CE+HD Connect article, “Debunking Misinformation.”

The article summarizes findings from the Global Signature program and how Department of Educational Psychology researchers are working to cut through misconceptions about the causes and treatments of autism spectrum disorder.  

In the article, Fleury explains that autism was a prime topic to research because there is so much misinformation about what causes it and about the best treatments for families, schools, and communities.

“Autism tends to be a fad magnet. People use a variety of strategies that don’t have a strong research base—in fact, we have research to refute their effectiveness—yet they still have a strong hold,” says Fleury.

According to Connect in an age of misinformation and fake news, Fleury, Kendeou, and Trevors’ work has gained urgency.

“You cannot really erase and replace misconceptions that people have acquired. That’s the sad story about misinformation,” Kendeou told Connect. “We want to reduce its impact, not change people’s beliefs.”
Read the full article.

Ed Psych researchers present on misinformation surrounding ASD

Despite the facts, people across the world hold different beliefs about what causes autism spectrum disorder (ASD). On March 31, faculty and researchers from the Department of Educational Psychology shared findings from a recent “glocal” (locally based with global components) study on the misinformation that surrounds ASD.

Panayiota Kendeou, Guy Bond Chair in Reading and associate professor in the psychological foundations of education program, kicked off the event with an introduction into the cognitive theory behind “Reducing the Impact of Misinformation around ASD.” She explained the misinformation effect and her Knowledge Revision Components Framework (KrEC) which examines the incremental steps of knowledge revision.Watch Kendeou’s presentation.

Gregory Trevors, post-doctoral fellow in the psychological foundations of education program, provided additional background, presenting local and global data from the study on “The Public’s Prior Knowledge about the Causes of ASD and its Relations to Treatment Recommendation.” Watch Trevor’s presentation.

Veronica Fleury, assistant professor and ASD licensure & M.Ed. coordinator in the special education program, presented findings from the local portion of the study conducted at the Minnesota State fair, specifically examining “The Impact of (source) Credibility on Treatment Recommendations.” Watch Fleury’s presentation.

Finally, Krista Muis, associate professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at McGill University, provided an outside perspective on why the Global Signature Program is important. Muis, who studies how individuals process complex, contradictory content on socio-scientific issues such as vaccinations, noted the strengths of the research project. She also posed a few questions about the local portion of study and provided recommendations for future global research on the topic. Watch Muis’ presentation.

The event ended with a discussion that will help inform the content for future coursework, including a study abroad course focused on understanding ASD with an emphasis on debunking global misinformation.

The signature program is funded by the Office of International Initiatives and Relations at the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD).

  1. Kendeou, P., & O’Brien, E. J. (2014). The Knowledge Revision Components (KReC) Framework: Processes and Mechanisms. In D. Rapp, & J. Braasch (Eds.), Processing Inaccurate Information: Theoretical and Applied Perspectives from Cognitive Science and the Educational Sciences Cambridge: MIT.

McComas named CEHD President’s Community Engaged Scholar

Jennifer McComas with award
Jennifer McComas with the award presented to her on March 30

Jennifer McComas, associate chair and special education professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, is the CEHD nominee for this year’s President’s Community Engaged Scholar award. This award recognizes  faculty involvement in public service and encourages and emphasizes civic engagement as a permanent priority of the College of Education and Human Development.

McComas was recognized on March 30 in a University-wide ceremony hosted by the Office for Public Engagement and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

“Jennifer is highly deserving of the award,” says Department of Educational Psychology chair, Geoffrey Maruyama. “She has worked over the past decade in Minneapolis Public Schools, first in North Minneapolis, then with Anishinabe Academy, and recently, she added tele-health research to connect with rural communities,” says Maruyama. “These and other projects reflect her deep commitment to engaged research and to doing work that makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Please join us in congratulating Professor McComas on this tremendous accomplishment!

Special ed alum, Lembke, named Honorary Alumni by University of Missouri College of Ed

Erica Lembke

Erica Lembke, chair and professor of the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri and an alumni of the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, recently was awarded an Honorary Alumni award by the University of Missouri College of Education.

Lembke, whose research focus centers on measurement, intervention, progress monitoring, and data-based individualization within content areas such as mathematics and writing, has been involved in $4.5 million in federal funding for research and training, has more than 40 publications, and has given more than 150 presentations at local, state and national conferences.

In addition, Lembke is active in her local and regional schools, as she provides support and technical assistance for individual teachers and administrators.

On the national level, Lembke serves as a Senior Technical Advisor for the National Center on Intensive Intervention, which advocates for federal special education technical assistance and policy for all U.S. schools. She is also the current editor of the Journal Assessment for Effective Intervention.

According to one of Lembke’s nominators, “I hope to emulate this very talented professor in every way, as she has truly made an impact on my professional development and career. Her unconditional support and tireless efforts to advise and mentor me continue to this day.”

Ed Psych, special education receive top rankings

Education Sciences Building
Education Sciences Building

The Department of Educational Psychology and our special education program were ranked in the top 10 of the 2018 U.S. News & World Report rankings of graduate schools. We maintained a #8 ranking in special education and moved up to #9 in educational psychology. The department is part of the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) which ranked 12th among public professional schools of education, 21st among all schools, in the rankings.

CEHD is a world leader in developing innovative programs to address opportunity gaps in child development, teaching, and learning. Consider its outstanding partnership programs with school districts in Minnesota that apply evidence-based teaching methodologies to strengthen schools. Note also the impact of recent groundbreaking research on autism—which Jason Wolff, assistant professor in special education was a part of—has uncovered new patterns of brain development in infants. CEHD’s productivity last year included $44.3 million of externally funded research.

CEHD’s developmental psychology program (Institute of Child Development) was also ranked by U.S. News &  World Report and is #1 in the country.

“Our college continues to reach new heights of excellence in graduate teaching, research, and outreach,” said Dean Jean K. Quam. “We are focused on improving the lives of students across Minnesota, the nation, and the world.”

Learn more about Educational Psychology’s top rated masters and doctorate programs.

Rankings methodology: U.S. News surveyed 379 schools granting education doctoral degrees. It calculates rankings based on quality assessments from peer institutions and school superintendents nationwide, student selectivity, and faculty research and resources, which includes student/faculty ratio and faculty awards as well as support for research.

Instructor profile: Becca Pierce

Becca Pierce didn’t always see herself in the field of special education. Growing up, learning came easily to her, and she couldn’t understand how the other students weren’t able to find solutions. It wasn’t until Pierce began teaching and working with students with special needs that she fell in love with the field.

“The rewards are too many to count. You get them everyday,” she says. “There’s so much love in the world of education!”

As a special education teacher, Pierce  would carefully watch how her students reacted to her instruction by their body language and expressions. She used this technique, along with progress monitoring data, to adapt her instruction to fit the different needs of students. Pierce attributes much of her success as a teacher to her belief that students need to feel emotionally safe in order to learn.

“I’d look at my instruction and try something different,” she recalls “At first, it was a lot of trial and error to find something from which a particular student would benefit. But as years went by, those trials and errors wove themselves into patterns and it made it easier,” Pierce says.

She continues, “When I came to the U of M to do my doctoral degree and started reading the research, one of my reactions was a bit of anger. The research was telling me (through one article) what it had taken me years to learn from my students.”

Now a lecturer and coordinator for the Academic Behavioral Specialist (A.B.S.) licensure and M.Ed. program, Pierce says the most exciting thing about her career is seeing students become successful in life.

“In the moment, it’s a joy to witness students master a skill…But as I taught long enough, I could see them become adults and tap into the strengths we worked on. To see students using the same strengths in their jobs and becoming successful wage earners, adults, parents, and spouses that became the bigger reward.”

In the future, Pierce hopes to keep learning how she can help students by preparing special education  teachers with the tools they need to better serve students’ needs.

“In the past, I learned from students,” she says. “Now, I need to learn from our teacher candidates to better prepare them with the heart and passion for the job.”

Outside of work, Pierce enjoys traveling. She grew up in Madagascar and spent time teaching in Cameroon, Japan, and Qatar. She and her husband like to travel to places they can scuba dive.

Wolff, Elison part of team identifying autism biomarkers in infancy

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in infants with older siblings with autism, researchers from around the country, including the University of Minnesota (UMN), were able to predict which infants would later meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at two years of age, with 80 percent accuracy.

Jed Elison, Ph.D. and Jason Wolff, Ph.D.

“This area of research is incredibly exciting because it provides an opportunity to understand how autism unfolds early in life,” said Jason Wolff, Ph.D., an assistant professor in educational psychology at UMN and a study co-author. “It provides new clues about the timing and specific mechanisms of brain development that precede a diagnosis. It also offers the unprecedented possibility of predicting whether or not a child will develop autism based on neurobiological data.”

“Typically, the earliest an autism diagnosis can be made is between ages two and three. But for babies with older autistic siblings, our imaging approach may help predict during the first year of life which babies are most likely to receive an autism diagnosis at 24 months,” said senior author Joseph Piven, M.D., the Thomas E. Castelloe Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

This research project included hundreds of children from across the country and was led by researchers at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) at the University of North Carolina (UNC). The project’s other clinical sites included the University of Washington, Washington University in St. Louis, and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In addition to the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development, other key collaborators are McGill University, the University of Alberta, the College of Charleston, and New York University (see ibisnetwork.org for more information.)

For this study, published today in Nature, the team of researchers conducted MRI scans of infants at six, 12 and 24 months of age. They found that the babies who developed autism experienced a hyper-expansion of brain surface area from six to 12 months, as compared to babies who had an older sibling with autism but did not themselves show evidence of the condition at 24 months of age. Increased growth rate of surface area in the first year of life was linked to increased growth rate of overall brain volume in the second year of life. Brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year.

The researchers then took these data – MRIs of brain volume, surface area, cortical thickness at 6 and 12 months of age, and sex of the infants – and used a computer program to identify a way to classify babies most likely to meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age. The computer program developed the best algorithm to accomplish this, and the researchers applied the algorithm to a separate set of study participants.

The researchers found that brain differences at 6 and 12 months of age in infants with older siblings with autism correctly predicted eight out of 10 infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age in comparison to those infants with older ASD siblings who did not meet criteria for autism at 24 months.

According to the researchers, the findings may have implications for early detection and intervention in children who have older siblings with autism before a diagnosis is typically established. Diagnosis of ASD typically occurs after 24 months of age, the earliest time when behavioral characteristics of ASD can be observed. Intervening early could lead to improved outcomes, as the brain is more malleable in the first years of life compared with later in childhood.

“The findings lay the foundation for the field to move toward attempting to implement interventions before the symptoms that define autism consolidate into a diagnosis,” said study co-author Jed Elison, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UMN Institute of Child Development.

“Much of what we do as a field to help individuals with autism is reactive,” Wolff said. “We wait for children to fall behind before providing an intervention. We may now be able to find ways to prevent that from ever happening.”

The National Institutes of Health funded this study.

See media coverage of this story in the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, KARE TV, WCCO TV, and KMSP TV.

Deno to receive posthumous Outstanding Achievement Award

Stanley L. Deno headshot
Stanley L. Deno

Stanley L. Deno—professor emeritus until his passing on October 12, 2016—will be honored with a University of Minnesota Outstanding Achievement Award. Deno graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. After earning his doctorate, he became a faculty member at the University of Delaware from 1965 to 1969. In 1969, Deno returned to the University of Minnesota where he was a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology until he retired in 2009.

Deno is receiving this award for his career’s work, which focused on students’ progress in developing basic skills. His research led to the development of simple indicators to index student strengths in reading, writing, and math that measure performance over time. Known as Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM), these indicators are now a set of federally-recognized procedures that teachers use nationwide to identify and help special education students with mild disabilities who are underperforming in the classroom.

Deno’s work—described by colleagues as “brilliant”—influenced educational policy and practice, and inspired researchers who are dedicated to improving student learning. In an interview, he said that teaching possessed the greatest chance of leading to lasting social change in relation to educational innovations. He carried that perspective throughout his career both in his research and as a mentor to students and colleagues, saying, “once an adviser, always an adviser.”

Deno’s family will accept his Outstanding Achievement Award on his behalf in a late May 2017 ceremony.

Jitendra keynotes Specific Learning Disabilities conference in India

Asha Jitendra headshot
Asha Jitendra

Asha Jitendra, Rodney Wallace Professor for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning in in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, delivered a keynote speech at this year’s Specific Learning Disabilities Conference on December 2 at the Maliya Aditi International School in Bangalore, India.

Jitendra’s keynote, “Effective practices that accommodate diverse learners: Research to practice,” presented effective instructional strategies for enhancing the academic performance.

Prior to the conference, Jitendra led a workshop on “Helping teachers teach elementary students word problem solving using schema-based instruction.” The goal of the workshop was to equip elementary school teachers with effective instructional strategies for teaching mathematics to children with learning problems.

In addition to delivering the keynote and leading the pre-conference workshop, Jitendra also hosted two breakout sessions at the event. The first was “Big Ideas in Mathematics” and focused on developing big ideas in fractions and proportional reasoning to promote mathematical understanding. The second was called “Improving mathematical problem solving using strategy instruction.” In this session, Jitendra demonstrated how visual representations can help students focus on the relationship between quantities central to many mathematical problems.

This first-ever Specific Learning Disabilities Conference was a national event organized to address the need for greater awareness and understanding of Specific Learning Disabilities in India. The purpose of the conference was to: increase awareness of the nature of specific Learning Disabilities among middle and high school students; share subject specific classroom and home based strategies; discuss existing accommodations and accommodation pathways; examine existing policies and laws; and empower stakeholders to advocate for the rights of students with specific learning disabilities.

Learn more about Asha Jitendra’s research.