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Interview with Dr. Rader on ASD Research at Ithaca College

Submitted by on 12/18/2012 – 1:14 pmNo Comment

Dr. Nancy Rader

Dr. Nancy Rader, who received her Ph.D. in Cognition, Perception and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University, is currently a professor of Psychology at Ithaca College. She runs the Ithaca College Cognition Lab, where she and her students are currently doing studies involving children with autism.

Rader previously worked with children who have autism at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, which helped to spark her interest in different patterns of development. Earlier research with UCLA colleague Patricia Zukow-Goldring, found that eye-gaze patterns in typically developing children shift with age when looking at a video of a speaker presenting a new object, with infants more likely to look at a speaker’s mouth and older children more likely to look at the speaker’s eyes. Over the past year, Rader and her research team at Ithaca College have been conducting studies to study eye gaze in typically developing children and those with ASD.  Rader says, “One finding is that in terms of looking at the speakers face, the children with autism are most like the youngest group of typically developing children 14.5- 20 months of age. These children are looking more at the object being introduced than at the face of the speaker.”  The gaze-patterns of the children with autism were not like typically developing children of a similar age, suggesting a developmental delay. This research as been presented at the 2012 Eastern Psychological Conference in Pittsburg as well as the 2012 National Conference of Undergraduate Research in Odgen Utah.

Rader and her team are also interested in how gestures make a difference in word learning. For infants, having a gesture that goes along with a speaker’s pattern of speech when she introduces an object is helpful in learning that new word. For older children aged 4-6 the gesture does not make much of a difference and they end up learning the name of the word either way. “This makes a really big difference, however, for the ASD group; without this movement of the object we found that children with ASD are looking at the object but are not processing it in relationship to the introduction of the name of the object or at least not retaining that information when we test them later on” says Rader. In fact, without the dynamic gesture, word learning in the ASD group was no different from that of typically developing children 15-23 months of age; with the dynamic gesture was equivalent to word learning of typically developing children 4-6 years of age.

What they are trying to figure out now is how to understand the cognitive processing that leads to word learning in typically developing infants to understand the difference between typically developing children and children with autism. Rader says that they will start by looking at pupil dilation data, “This research is really important for understanding the fundamental underlying mechanisms for typical language development; we need to have that well understood in order to better understand what goes wrong. So the research with typically developing children really has to go hand in hand with research on children with autism.


Dr. Rader is currently looking for participants who are typically developing as well as those who have autism. Please contact Nancy Rader at (607) 274 3510 or rader@ithaca.edu or the Ithaca College Cognition Lab at (607) 274-1437



By Elicia Wartman

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