Faculty Mentor: Lisa Aziz-Zadeh PhD
Research Lab: A-Z Lab
Year of Entry: 2018
I am a neuroscientist and PhD Student at the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. I work with Dr. Lisa Aziz-Zadeh in the A-Z Lab at the Brain and Creativity Institute. Our project revolves around the study of the contributions of the social and motor networks and their deficits in typically developing children and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Development Coordination Disorder (Dyspraxia).
My research interests relate to the improvement of diagnostic specificity through the use of multi-modal neuroimaging techniques in conjunction with neuropsychological testing to better understand how social, sensorimotor and cognitive learning network deficits contribute to distinguishing between different ASD subtypes.
Master of Science (MSc)
in Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience
2015 | University of Sheffield
Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech)
2013 | VIT University, India
Kilroy, E., Harrison, L., Butera, C., Jayashankar, A., Cermak, S., Kaplan, J., Williams, M., Haranin, E., Bookheimer, S., Dapretto, M., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2021). Unique deficit in embodied simulation in autism: An fMRI study comparing autism and developmental coordination disorder. Human Brain Mapping, 42(5), 1532-1546. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.25312 Show abstract
A deficit in pre‐cognitively mirroring other people's actions and experiences may be related to the social impairments observed in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, it is unclear whether such embodied simulation deficits are unique to ASD or instead are related to motor impairment, which is commonly comorbid with ASD. Here we aim to disentangle how, neurologically, motor impairments contribute to simulation deficits and identify unique neural signatures of ASD. We compare children with ASD (N = 30) to children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD; N = 23) as well as a typically developing group (N = 33) during fMRI tasks in which children observe, imitate, and mentalize about other people's actions. Results indicate a unique neural signature in ASD: during action observation, only the ASD group shows hypoactivity in a region important for simulation (inferior frontal gyrus, pars opercularis, IFGop). However, during a motor production task (imitation), the IFGop is hypoactive for both ASD and DCD groups. For all tasks, we find correlations across groups with motor ability, even after controlling for age, IQ, and social impairment. Conversely, across groups, mentalizing ability is correlated with activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex when controlling for motor ability. These findings help identify the unique neurobiological basis of ASD for aspects of social processing. Furthermore, as no previous fMRI studies correlated brain activity with motor impairment in ASD, these findings help explain prior conflicting reports in these simulation networks.
Butera, C., Ring, P., Sideris, J., Jayashankar, A., Kilroy, E., Harrison, L., Cermak, S., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2020). Impact of sensory processing on school performance outcomes in high functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Mind, Brain, and Education, 14(3), 243-254. https://doi.org/10.1111/mbe.12242 Show abstract
Difficulty processing sensory information may impede progress in school for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We explore the relationship between sensory processing and school performance in 26 high‐functioning youths with ASD and 26 controls (age 8–14) using measures of sensory, social, cognitive, and academic functioning. In the ASD group, bivariate Pearson correlations indicated a significant positive relationship between intelligence quotient (IQ) and the School Competence Scale (SCS) of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), and a significant negative relationship between Dunn's Sensory Processing Framework and SCS scores. Final hierarchical multiple linear regression model accounting for SCS scores in ASD included IQ, ADHD symptoms, and sensory features. An interaction between increased sensory sensitivity with reduced sensory avoidance behaviors explained the greatest amount of variance in SCS, meaning school performance is lowest for children with greater hypersensitivity and fewer avoidance behaviors. Results indicate a strong impact of sensory processing on school performance in ASD.