Category Archives: Human Development

UMN researchers assist in 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.

“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.

“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.

“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.”

“These findings not only are significant for the field of autism, but they also could inform the broader field of psychiatry and prevention science as it relates to various psychiatric conditions,” Elison said. “This research highlights the best of contemporary science. It’s collaborative, and informed by technology and multiple areas of expertise, with the common goal of helping families.”

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.

Berry discusses self-regulation in CEHD Vision 2020 blog

Daniel Berry, Ed.D.

Daniel Berry, Ed.D., assistant professor in the Institute of Child Development, has a featured post in the CEHD Vision 2020 blog. Berry’s post, “Supporting Self-Regulation in Children: Tips for Parents,” explores how parents, teachers and peers can support children as they learn to regulate their thoughts and emotions.

Stoffregen appointed to Gait & Posture board

StoffregenT_2015Thomas Stoffregen, Ph.D., professor in the School of Kinesiology and director of the Affordance Perception-Action Laboratory (APAL), has accepted an appointment to the editorial board for Gait & Posture, one of the pre-eminent journals in the field of Movement Science. The journal is a vehicle for the publication of up-to-date basic and clinical research on all aspects of locomotion and balance.

Gait & Posture has a 1-year Impact Factor of 2.286, and a 5-Year Impact Factor of 2.864.

Stoffregen to publish in Ecological Psychology

StoffregenT_2015A study by Thomas Stoffregen, Ph.D., professor in the School of Kinesiology and director of the Affordance Perception-Action Laboratory (APAL), along with Bruno Mantel and Benoit G. Bardy, has been accepted for publication in Ecological Psychology. The article is titled “The senses considered as one perceptual system.”

While peer-reviewed, the article was invited as part of a special issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems, by James J. Gibson, one of the foundational statements of the Ecological Approach to Perception and Action.

Dr. Mantel is on the faculty at the University of Caen, while Dr. Bardy is on the faculty at the University of Montpellier, both in France.

Sullivan helps MAP Equity Assistance Center provide schools with professional development, technical assistance

Amanda Sullivan

Amanda Sullivan, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s school psychology program, is one of several Equity Fellows assisting the new Midwest and Plans (MAP) Equity Assistance Center in providing professional development and technical assistance to regional school systems.

The MAP Center was recently awarded a five year grant by the U.S. Department of Education to assist with desegregation and other civil rights issues in public schools in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Sullivan will contribute to the development of MAP products and services to facilitate implementation of culturally appropriate multitier systems of support for students’ academic, social-emotional, and behavioral development.

“I’m excited to partner with the MAP Center to support schools’ efforts to create equitable systems and support the learning and wellbeing of all learners,” she says. “This is as important now as it’s ever been and with the MAP center, we have a great opportunity to develop tools tailored to our local communities.”

ICD unveils new online M.A. in applied child and adolescent development

The Institute of Child Development (ICD) has launched an online master’s degree program that will help prepare a new generation of professionals to meet the developmental needs of children in practice and through policy.

The Master’s of Arts (M.A.) in Applied Child and Adolescent Development program aims to equip students with a foundation in development science that can be applied in advocacy, community, and health care settings. Through the program, students will gain knowledge in cognitive and biological development, social and emotional development, research methods and ethics. The program is entirely online, allowing students to learn from where they are.

Students can apply to one of three specialized tracks: infant and early childhood mental health, child life, and individualized studies. Each track incorporates coursework specific to the specialization and requires a field experience internship or fellowship for graduation.  

“Children are our future — the nation’s future. At this critical time, we must ensure that children and adolescents receive the support they need to develop and grow into healthy, thriving adults,” says Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., director of ICD. “Our new master’s degree seeks to do just that by helping students build a foundation in development science that they can use in real-world situations.”

The M.A. is intended for individuals who would like to build a career working with children or adolescents or creating and implementing practices and policies that support their well-being and development. The M.A. also is ideal for professionals working in fields that serve children who are seeking to advance their career. The program currently is accepting applications for Fall 2017.

Stoffregen quoted in Australian ABC News

StoffregenT_2015Thomas Stoffregen, Ph.D., professor in the School of Kinesiology and director of the Affordance Perception-Action Laboratory (APAL), is quoted in the Science News section of ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). In the article, he discusses seasickness and how to prevent it, based on his research on motion sickness and postural sway.

Read the full article here.

Cook featured in Forbes article on keeping New Year’s resolutions

Clayton Cook head shot
Clayton Cook

Clayton Cook, John W. and Nancy E. Peyton Faculty Fellow in Child and Adolescent Wellbeing and associate professor in the department of Educational Psychology’s school psychology program, was recently interviewed by Forbes for the article “The Science Behind Making New Year’s Resolutions That You’ll Keep.”

In the article, Cook explains which conditions make it more likely we’ll keep our resolutions and how can make them into habits.

Read the full article.

Reuters interviews Gunnar about new study on early adverse experiences

Dr. Megan Gunnar
Dr. Megan Gunnar

Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Child Development, was interviewed by Reuters about how adverse experiences can impact a child’s health and development.

The article highlighted a new, small study in JAMA Pediatrics that examined the link between neighborhood factors – like liquor store density, domestic violence and violent crime rates – and stress in children.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Tulane University and included 85 children in New Orleans, found that children who lived near more liquor stores or crime, experienced high cortisol levels that were less likely to return to normal after a stress test.

Commenting on the findings, Gunnar said that “[e]arly adverse experiences do get under our skin to influence our biology,” noting that “children need safe places to live in order to grow into healthy and productive adults.”

Despite this, Gunnar said many children who experience adverse neighborhood factors will be resilient. “Identifying the protective factors that support that resilience and building on them, especially for children showing the effects of toxic exposures, is the appropriate response to the pediatric health issues revealed by this study.”

Chalkbeat Colorado interviews Carlson about importance of executive function

CarlsonS-Pref
Stephanie Carlson

Stephanie Carlson, Ph.D., a professor in the Institute of Child Development, was interviewed by Chalkbeat Colorado about the importance of executive function.

Executive function refers to a set of skills that helps individuals pay attention, control impulses and think flexibly. During the interview, Carlson explained how executive function is related to the achievement gap and offered suggestions for how parents, educators and policymakers can help children develop the skills they need to succeed in the classroom.

“Difficulties with executive function really set kids up to fail in school,” Carlson said, later adding, “I would like to encourage educators and parents to get involved in these issues. There’s no powerless figure: ‘There’s nothing I can do for my class or for my child that’s going to make any difference.’ You really can and it’s a collective form of empowerment.”

Learn more about Carlson’s research and her start-up Reflection Sciences.

Three ICD faculty featured in U of M Driven to Discover campaign

Three Institute of Child Development (ICD) faculty members will be featured as part of the University of Minnesota (U of M) Driven to Discover campaign.

Dr. Megan Gunnar
Dr. Megan Gunnar

This year’s campaign emphasizes the U of M’s collective strengths in tackling big challenges in four key areas, including abolishing hunger, closing the opportunity gap, ending addiction and protecting human rights.

For the campaign, ICD faculty Megan Gunnar, Philip Zelazo and Jed Elison shared how their research is helping to close the opportunity gap.

Dr. Philip Zelazo
Dr. Philip Zelazo

Gunnar, director of the institute, Regents Professor and Distinguished McKnight University Professor, discussed the importance of investing in early childhood and promoting healthy development for all children.

Zelazo, a Nancy M. and John E. Lindahl Professor, highlighted his research on executive function, which can help predict kindergarten readiness and academic success.

Dr. Jed Elison
Dr. Jed Elison

Elison, an assistant professor, discussed how he is working to detect autism earlier to help children and families access interventions and achieve better outcomes.

The campaign, which launched in TV, print, digital, and social media on Sept. 26, will feature Gunnar, Zelazo and Elison throughout Fall 2016.

Lawrenz part of first-ever national project to analyze genomic law and medicine

1logoThe National Institutes of Health has awarded the first-ever grant dedicated to laying the policy groundwork needed to translate genomic medicine into clinical application. The project – LawSeq – will convene legal, ethics, and scientific experts from across the country to analyze what the state of genomic law is and create much-needed guidance on what it should be.

The principal investigators leading the grant are Susan M. Wolf, J.D., U of M chair of the Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences; Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D. (Vanderbilt University); and Frances Lawrenz, Ph.D., U of M associate vice president for research and professor of educational psychology. Lawrenz is an expert in qualitative and quantitative research methods who has successfully led multiple National Science Foundation grants and has directed qualitative research on managing incidental findings and return of genomic results.

The leading investigators will be joined by a group of 22 top experts – from academia, industry, and clinical care – who will collaborate over the course of this three-year project to clarify current law, address gaps, and generate the forward-looking recommendations needed to create the legal foundation for successfully translating genomics into clinical care.

Stum says it’s not the big things that matter when dividing assets

StumMarlene150In a recent New York Times article, FSOS professor Marlene Stum says it’s not the big things that matter when dividing assets after the death of a loved one.

In fact, Stum says that most often families have decided ahead of time what will be done with the items bearing any significant monetary value. It’s the smaller things worth almost no money, but high in sentimental value, that families end up fighting over, which leads to strife in relationships.

Stum’s publication, Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate, helps families navigate the division of the assets. Her book sets forth principles such as helping family members understand that each belonging has a varying value to each family member, and stresses the importance of setting up a fair system for dividing assets, and sticking to it.

Read the New York Times article here.

Learn more about Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate here.

Kohli to speak at APS Annual Convention

Nidhi Kohli
Dr. Nidhi Kohli

Dr. Nidhi Kohli, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s quantitative methods in education program, will speak at the Association for Psychological Science (APS) Annual Convention in Chicago on May 28.

Dr. Kohli’s research focuses on developing and improving statistical methods for analyzing longitudinal (measures repeated on the same individuals over time) educational and psychological data. The aim of this work is to move the applied statistics literature forward and provide researchers and practitioners the theoretical underpinnings and empirical guidance to utilize these methods to address important substantive questions in areas of education, health, and human development.

At the convention, Dr. Kohli will discuss her research work on the statistical methodology of piecewise growth models. A significant part of her academic research program has been devoted to the development and extension of piecewise growth models that allows the estimation of the location of the knot between learning or other developmental phases. She will talk about the various extensions of this model, along with its applications to psychological and educational research settings.

The Association for Psychological Science is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of scientific psychology and its representation at the national and international level. The Association’s mission is to promote, protect, and advance the interests of scientifically oriented psychology in research, application, teaching, and the improvement of human welfare. The APS Annual Convention attracts over 4,300 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field.

FSoS alumnus benefits from deportation reprieve program

PerezDAfter years of living in the United States illegally, Daniel Perez, a former FSoS undergraduate student and current graduate student, has a green card after qualifying for a federal program that offers deportation reprieve for immigrants who entered the country as children.

Perez, who crossed the Mexican border when he was 15, qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), passed by the Obama administration in 2012.

According to an article in the Star Tribune, for those who qualify, DACA offers a temporary reprieve from deportation and a work permit. For some immigrants married to U.S. citizens, the program also allows government-approved travel abroad to nullify their initial illegal entry into the country and permit them to apply for a green card.

Perez’s wife, Kendra, a Canadian who is now a U.S. citizen, sponsored him.

Through DACA, Perez has been granted “advanced parole,” according to the Star Tribune. This means that a person with a pending immigration application has permission to  re-enter the country, as long as they had an educational, professional, or humanitarian reason to leave the country. Perez, who now works as a social worker in Minneapolis, was granted advance prole for a professional conference in Canada.

Now Perez and his wife are planning his first trip to Mexico since he and his family left in 2002. They will visit his grandparents and other family.

Perez will be eligible to apply for citizenship in 2018.

Read the Star Tribune Article here.

Diego Garcia-Huidobro named finalist in CEHD’s Three Minute Thesis Competition

GarciaHuidobroD2012FSoS doctoral candidate Diego Garcia-Huidobro has been named as a finalist in the inaugural CEHD Three Minute Thesis competition. Garcia-Huidobro is one of eight finalists, and the only finalist from FSoS.

Garcia-Huidobro will be competing for $500. The runner up and the people’s choice will receive prizes of $250 respectively.

Despite this being the first year that CEHD is participating in 3MT, over 200 universities across the world participate annually. The competition is intended to develop presentation, research, and academic communication skills, and to help students explain their work effectively to a general audience with no background in their field of study.

Judges for the CEHD competition are Dr. Keith Mayes, CLA professor; R.T. Rybak, former Minneapolis mayor and current executive director of Generation Next; and Margie Soran, executive director of the Soran Foundation.

The Three Minute Thesis competition will be held on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, from 10:00 to 11:00 AM, in the McNamara Alumni Center Heritage Gallery as part of CEHD Research Day.

Study shows adverse experiences make a child less likely to graduate from high school

ReynoldsA-2012A new study led by Institute of Child Development professor Arthur Reynolds suggests people who experience four or more traumatic events, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), are significantly less likely to graduate from high school, which is a leading indicator of lifelong health. The study in the April 2016 issue of Pediatrics, “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Well-Being in a Low-Income, Urban Cohort,” followed 1,202 economically disadvantaged, minority participants who attended kindergarten in Chicago Public Schools and responded to periodic surveys about family and school experiences throughout childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood.

ACEs that participants were asked about included whether they had been a victim of violent crime; had witnessed a shooting or stabbing; experienced the death of a family member, friend, or relative; or had frequent family conflict, prolonged absence or divorce of their parents, or substance abuse by a parent. In addition to education level, these experiences also affected occupational prestige, criminal activity, health-compromising behaviors, and mental health by the time participants reached age 26.

Reynolds said the study, funded with National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and National Science Foundation grants, showed that the harmful effect of ACEs extend above and beyond socio-economic status. Early childhood programs can buffer the negative effects of early, traumatic experiences and should be more widely available, he added.

Serido helps students and families make better decisions about financing higher education

Professor Joyce SeridoDepartment of Family Social Science associate Professor Joyce Serido teamed up with Extension educators across the state to create a pilot program that helps students and families make better choices about financing higher education.

The program began in January, and Serido will meet with Extension educators in February to fine tune the program to make it accessible to various groups statewide.

Read more about Serido’s work in Source Magazine.

Learn more about Serido’s research on her profile page.

Learn more about personal finance and financial education resources.

Social Work graduate’s innovative partnership helps better serve state’s children, families

Katy Armendariz
Katy Armendariz

When she made a last-minute decision to abandon a scholarship from a sociology Ph.D. program and enroll instead in the University of Minnesota’s master’s of social work (M.S.W.) program, Katy Armendariz had no idea that would be her first step toward fulfilling a lifelong dream of serving children and families.

Katy is an international adoptee and former foster child who knows the child welfare system from personal experience. She received her M.S.W. from the University of Minnesota in 2009. In 2013, she started MN CarePartner, a mental health agency to bring psychotherapy services into the homes of people who could not make it to a clinic due to physical, mental, financial or transportation barriers.

The agency started out small, with just two part-time therapists. By August of 2015, it had six therapists and a certificate from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to provide Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS). CTSS is an in-home rehabilitative service that teaches children and families the necessary skills to manage the symptoms of a child’s mental health condition and bring the child back to a normal developmental trajectory.

Then, last spring, Katy and Laura Skoglund, owner of Families in Transition Services (FiTS), had a conversation over coffee. Laura has a degree in social work and paralegal studies, with a strong advocacy background in domestic violence and sexual assault. When she took over Families in Transition in January of 2012, she found a niche serving families through supervised visitation and parenting skills.

Laura, who grew up in a home where domestic violence and chemical dependency were prevalent, saw FiTS as an opportunity to help families in similar situations. FiTS provides supervised visitation for child protection families requiring oversight throughout the process of permanency and reunification, as well as family law cases. Laura saw that children’s acting-out behaviors often increased before and/or after visits with their parents, and she saw a need for in-home skills and therapy to smooth the transitions. Katy wanted the services her agency provided to help disadvantaged families who have a hard time parenting due to psychosocial barriers, such as the homelessness and mental illness that prevented her own birth mother from being able to parent.

It was a perfect match and happened to coincide with the release of 93 recommendations by the Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children, which had examined the Minnesota child welfare system. It concluded that the system could not improve without additional resources, training and workforce. Katy and Laura quickly realized that their partnership could help child welfare providers meet several of the task force recommendations about providing more seamless services to children and families.

Together, FiTS and MN CarePartner offers supervised visitation in the home, CTSS services and in-home psychotherapy. In order to reduce the number of providers coming into a family’s home, the two agencies work together to hire people who can provide more than one kind of service. The person supervising the visit is often the same person who teaches CTSS and parenting skills between visits. The CTSS skills worker is supervised by the in-home therapist, ensuring complementary treatment plans and a quality coordinated-care team for each family.

FiTS and MN CarePartner reached out to several child protection units in several counties, and had 16 partnerships set up in 10 counties by the end of August. The response to the partnership has been extremely positive, and child protection workers have reported that they feel at ease knowing that a committed team is in the home working for the empowerment and self-determination of children and families. Additionally, MN CarePartner and FiTS actively recruit staff of color, as well as bilingual staff, to address the cultural disparities that have made it difficult for far too many families to connect with their service providers and have a fair shot at reunification.

In November, Katy will receive an Outstanding Service Award from the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health for showing extraordinary leadership in the field.

Educational Psychology hosts prominent researchers to address successful interventions for student learners

On September 4, 2015, the Department of Educational Psychology hosted Drs. Douglas & Lynn Fuchs to present their work and insights on addressing learning disabilities in the classroom. Their talk, Is There a Role for Cognitive Processes in Academic Intervention?, addressed the issues of student learners and the necessity for researchers to modify interventions based on students’ ability to learn.

Douglas and Lynn Fuchs are international leaders in the study of learning disabilities and current faculty members in the Department of Special Education at Vanderbilt University. Both Doug Fuchs and Lynn Fuchs received their Ph.D.s in educational psychology from the University of Minnesota in years 1978 and 1981, respectively.

Dr. Douglas Fuchs’s research area focuses on the instruction of students at risk for school failure because of disability or poverty, peer-mediated learning, classroom assessment, school improvement and reform, urban education and special education policy.

Dr. Lynn Fuchs’s research area focuses on the instructional practice and assessment of student progress for students at risk for or with reading disabilities and mathematics disabilities.

Dr. Douglas Fuchs & Dr. Lynn Fuchs were among 100 distinguished alumni from the University of Minnesota, recognized for the advancements in their field for their research and work.
Watch the presentation.