Visiting prof. to discuss autism research

Barbara Thompson, MSU assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and human development, will present her research in the next presentation of the Youth Health Lecture Series, titled “Understanding Social Motivation in Autism.” The lecture will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7, in Reynolds Recital Hall, and admission is free.

Christina Gandolfo

Barbara Thompson, MSU assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and human development, will present her research in the next presentation of the Youth Health Lecture Series, titled “Understanding Social Motivation in Autism.” The lecture will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7, in Reynolds Recital Hall, and admission is free.

Jackie Jahfetson

A professor from Michigan State University will be visiting NMU’s campus to discuss certain brain mechanisms to better understand disorders in social behavior and gain awareness in recognizing individual differences in others and the need for individualized interventions.

Barbara Thompson, MSU assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and human development, will present her research in the next presentation of the Youth Health Lecture Series, titled “Understanding Social Motivation in Autism.” The lecture will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7, in Reynolds Recital Hall, and admission is free.

As part of Thompson’s research at MSU, the term “social motivation” is a way of describing the “drives,” or rather the underlying causes for why people may interact with others, Thompson said. With an interest to better understand social and emotional neurodevelopment, Thompson said this project seeks to understand social behaviors in young children—both typically developing—and children with autism.

“It is important to understand that as autism is a behaviorally defined and diagnosed disorder defined by alterations in social interactions that there is a wide range of social motivation within the population,” Thompson said. “This heterogeneity can be defined at the level of behavior or even within the underlying disrupted neural circuitry.”

Thompson’s specialization includes social and emotional neurodevelopment, and as a trained neuroscientist, she uses behavioral, molecular and physiological techniques to study the impact of environment and genetic effects on brain development.

The goals of her studies hope to better understand these functional disruptions for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

This lecture will not only demonstrate the tremendous amount of heterogeneity in social behaviors, but it will address that “behavioral diversity” should be explored further and taken into consideration when creating potential interventions to improve social interaction, Thompson continued. Though this research remains in the “preliminary stages,” Thompson and her team were the first to demonstrate the successful translation of a behavioral paradigm which previously was designed for use in animal models, but was transformed into a robust paradigm for young children, she said.

“We are now applying this paradigm to better understand social behaviors, and our recent results demonstrate a vast heterogeneity in social behaviors, even amongst typically developing children,” she noted. “I hope that the presentation will provide a better understanding of social behaviors in children.”

And Thompson said she’s “delighted” at any opportunity she can share her research endeavors.

“I think that if you are interested in topics related to the brain, behavior, neurodevelopment or children, this talk may either present you with new information, or may provoke you into considering your own research questions related to these topics,” Thompson added.

The series is co-sponsored by NMU, U.P. Health System – Marquette, Superior Health Foundation and MSU College of Human Medicine. For more information, visit MSUYourHealthLecture.com.