Human Development and Family Sciences
Research in Early Developmental Studies (RED) Lab
The RED Lab is dedicated to studying early developmental trajectories of typically developing children, as well as children at risk for developmental delays and autism spectrum disorders. Our research is focused broadly on the following topics:
Visual Attention and Gaze-related Social Communication
Research projects related to visual attention aim to answer questions regarding eye gaze patterns and engagement with visual stimuli. Using eye-tracking, we are able to examine visual fixation and duration variables to determine where and for how long infants and children look at different forms of instruction or brief social scenes. Increasing the understanding of gaze patterns and attention to visual features may improve assessment and treatment design in order to promote learning, engagement, and differentiation between groups of children with and without concerns for developmental delays, particularly autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Future projects in this line of research include incorporating measurement of visual attention into possible screening and evaluation of children's response to social communication interventions.
Parent-Mediated Joint Attention Intervention
Improving the quality and specificity of interventions available for children and families with ASD is an important line of research in the RED Lab. Current projects are using evidence-based practices and a team approach to work directly with families of young children at risk for ASD. With a parent-mediated team approach, researchers work with families to have parents as active participants in their children's treatment goals and treatment delivery. Joint attention, the sharing of experiences through eye gaze, gestures, and language, is one of the foundational skills targeted with these intervention projects. Parents work collaboratively with research clinicians to facilitate learning and social communication through engaging social exchanges with their children. Parents are able to implement strategies throughout many settings and functional routines with their children in order to provide continuous opportunities for building adaptive skills and social engagement.
Socially Assistive Robotics (SAR)
Different forms of technology are being used in child development research to better inform researchers, clinicians, and families on different mechanisms of learning and attention, as well as potentially beneficial interventions. The RED Lab team is exploring the use of technology, such as social robotics, to better understand differential responses to instruction delivery and reciprocal engagement. We are also assessing the use of social robotics as an intervention tool to promote functional social behavior. Our team programs our robot to participate in play and conversation tasks with the goal of capturing attention, sustaining interactions, promoting joint attention, prompting imitation, and stimulating turn-taking. Current projects related to this technology-focused research include using our humanoid robot, RayRae, as a social play partner during parent-mediated intervention activities. Our team is also investigating how children respond to robot vs. parent speech and movement, as well as identifying other factors that indicate added value for robots as an intervention tool.
Neuroimaging and Cognitive and Behavioral Factors in Child Development
Additional research projects within the RED Lab seek to identify possible brain-based patterns and relationships between individuals in at-risk groups, including ASD, ADHD, and children exposed to poverty. Neuroimaging data collected at Texas Tech and through secondary datasets provides our team with the opportunity to investigate structural and functional patterns in the brain that may be related to different cognitive (e.g., performance on IQ tests or measures of academic achievement and executive functioning) and behavioral (e.g., social skills or ratings of hyperactivity) profiles. The RED Lab is also developing original video stimuli to target research questions specific to infant-directed speech and infant-directed motion with the intention of sharing these stimuli with the open science community.
Resilience and Post-Traumatic Growth
Brain structure and function may be permanently affected by adverse life experiences, however not all infants and children exposed to early adversity will develop stress-related disorders. Through secondary data analysis, the RED lab is exploring various factors and patterns of resilience in children and families. Understanding individual traits as well as qualities and characteristics of relationships may illuminate the complex way in which children and youth are susceptible to as well as buffered from adverse life experiences. Future research can continue to illuminate specific factors for positive growth and the prevention of psychopathology, particularly in high risk families.
Dyadic Synchrony in the NICU Context
Dyadic synchrony is a developmental process relating to the reciprocal serve and return interactions between caregivers and infants which is strongly associated with the development of attachment, self-regulation, and cognition. For premature infants, the process of dyadic synchrony becomes interrupted and irregular due to multiple barriers including the medical and physiological status of the infant, the emotional state of the mother, and the physical restrictions of the NICU environment itself. Currently, the RED lab is exploring the autogenesis of dyadic synchrony in the NICU setting through focused ethnographic field observations of parent-infant interactional contexts. These observations will inform future research designs to measure the temporal patterns and fluctuations of the components of dyadic synchrony (e.g., congruence, mutuality, adaptation) as they occur in the NICU context.