Current Studies

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Study of Daily Motor Tasks

The objective of the Study of Daily Motor Tasks is to examine the motor properties of balance and grip strength tasks in adults with typical development. We would like to learn how a range of motor tasks are done in typically developing adults, and better understand balance, strength, kinematics, and postural stability needed to accomplish daily tasks in healthy adults. We would like to use this data as a contrast to better understand the underlying kinematics and postural stability of children with autism.

Learning and Decision Making in Autism and Typical Development

The Computer Learning Games Study was created to assess individual differences in learning profiles among individuals with autism and with typical development and the neural computations for the observed learning differences. We also are testing decision making differences among these groups. Participants ages 13-17 with ASD or typical development complete 11 sessions of learning-based and decision-making computer games. Task performance on both computer games will be used to guide our modeling in order to infer individual differences in neural circuits and physiological pathways that are altered in ASD. Additionally, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will be used to explore neurophysiological correlates of learning and ASD symptomatology in a subgroup of study participants.

Imaging of the Brainstem in Autism

The purpose of this project is to characterize the brainstem and surrounding cerebrum in individuals with ASD and autism-related disorders beyond the behaviorally defined diagnostic categories using state-of-the-art, multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and corresponding assessments of symptom severity. We also aim to determine biologically meaningful subgroups based on the multimodal MRI techniques and behavioral correlates, and test if the biology-based subgroups better predict symptom severity than traditional behavior-based diagnostic classifications. Children ages 6-10 participate in behavioral testing, motor assessments, go/no-go computer task, and an MRI scan in this study.

Motor Learning and Brain Changes in Autism


The Motor Learning and Brain Changes study was launched after analyzing data from current studies about motor learning and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Participants ages 14-17 complete six weeks of training, three times a week. The balance training game and Wii-fit games are utilized during this study, while the control group in the study completes sedentary video games. We also are using brain imaging to test if the video-game-based balance training can improve corticospinal microstructure in individuals with ASD, and in turn if this will lead to improvements in motor ability and core ASD symptoms.

Motor Video Game Learning


The Video Game Motor Learning study is a pilot study launched in Spring of 2015 that was created to further inform short and long term motor learning during video game play in individuals with ASD and with typical development. The goal of this study is to explore the predictors of individual difference in motor learning rates, such as ASD symptom severity, neurocognitive function, and age. Children with ASD and typically developing children ages 6-17 participate in a balance training game, as well as play games on a Wii fit board. The training takes place three times per week for six weeks.

Video Game Motor Learning and Brain Changes in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Motor challenges are commonly reported in persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, it is unclear how individuals with ASD learn motor skills and whether or not motor learning can change the structure and function of the brain in ASD. Using our ninja-training video game, participants complete 6 weeks of training. In a subset of participants, pre-post brain imaging is performed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Our long-term vision is to develop fun and motivating ways to alleviate motor challenges in ASD. Further, we hope to better understand neuroplasticity (how the brain changes as a function of experiences) in ASD.

Beyond the Cerebrum: Multimodal Imaging of the Brainstem in Autism Spectrum Disorder

The brainstem is an underexplored area of the brain in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that may be intimately related to ASD symptom severity. The purpose of this study is to characterize the brainstem and corresponding behaviors in children with ASD and related disorders. We use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to better understand the structure and function of this brain area. Behavioral assessments examine motor performance, sensory symptoms, and other core autism symptoms within the group. Our long-term vision is to better understand this brain region in order to understand the biological basis of ASD symptoms.

Robotically-Guided Motor Training

The purpose of this study is to explore how children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and children with typical development complete drawing motor tasks with a robot under more-or-less challenging conditions. We are interested in the robot’s potential to detect motor challenges in ASD. The robot tracks exact movements of participants, and the motion tracking camera detects joint angles and kinematics of body movements. Our long-term vision is to develop a robotically-guided motor skills assessment that will evaluate a person’s motor strengths and weaknesses. From this, we hope to develop a therapy paradigm (robotically-guided motor training) for individuals with ASD that can be individualized to their motor needs.  This is a collaborative project with Dr. Andrea Mason, Dr. Michael Zinn, and Dr. Brittany Travers.

Computer Learning Games

The purpose of this study is to understand multi-session learning, decision making, and corresponding neurobiology in ASD. Using space-themed computer games, we examine how learning occurs in ASD over weeks of training. A subset of participants also undergo MRI brain imaging. Our long-term vision is to find ways to identify and assess individual learning profiles that could be used to determine personalized educational plans to accelerate learning for individuals with ASD. This is a collaborative project between Dr. Ari Rosenberg and Dr. Brittany Travers.