↩ Back to the 'Past & Present Fellows' page

Emily Jones

Dr Emily Jones

Causal Pathways to Autism: the Role of Autonomic Control & Social Learning
Autism Spectrum Disorders affect a child's social relationships and communication skills. More than one percent of children suffer from autism, and rates of diagnosis are increasing. The behavioural symptoms of autism can emerge during development as a result of learning difficulties in social situations. The autonomic nervous system is fundamental to infant social learning. The system has two branches that work together to help the brain and body adapt to the environment. Whereas the sympathetic branch coordinates ‘fight-or-fight' responses, the parasympathetic branch helps children to focus during learning with social partners. The support afforded by this Fellowship will help determine whether imbalances in autonomic activity compromise social learning and leads to symptoms of autism. In this research I will monitor autonomic activity by measuring heart rate and perspiration during social learning tasks in infants who have older siblings with autism. These infants have a greatly increased chance of developing autism themselves. In this way, I will be able to examine whether autonomic activity during social learning in infancy predicts symptoms of autism in toddlerhood. This work could present new strategies for early identification of infants who will later develop autism, and suggest novel avenues for treatment.

Latest News