RESEARCH STUDY: Improving Social Communication using Executive Function Training in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Please read below information regarding research that you may wish to participate in;

Research Team:

Prof. Louise Gallagher, Professor and Consultant in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Trinity College Dublin

Dr. Clare Kelly, Ussher Assistant Professor of Functional Neuroimaging, Trinity College Dublin

Dr. Brea Chouinard, ASSISTID Marie Curie Post-doctoral Fellow, Trinity College Dublin 


What is this study about?

To be successful with social communication, we must keep track of several things. We must keep track of the words that are being spoken, whose turn it is to speak, and whether there are any clues that the other person might be joking. To do all of this, we use a thinking skill known as working memory.

You and your child are being invited to take part in this brain imaging study at Trinity College and St. James’s Hospital to help us understand three things. First, we want to understand whether a particular computer training program can be used to improve working memory in teenagers with ASD. Second, we want to know what is happening in the brains of teenagers with ASD during working memory and the other thinking skills involved in social communication. Finally, we want to know how the brain changes when these skills change as a result of training.


Who will take part in this study?

Males and females aged between 11 and 18 years with a diagnosis of ASD will take part in this study.


What will happen in this study?

There will be three different times when we are gathering information from you and your teenager: (1) an intake session; (2) a Time 1 session; and (2) a Time 2 session.
For the intake session, you and your child will be asked to come to our research offices. We will complete some pen and paper tasks with your child (assessments) and ask you to complete a set of questionnaires about your child. With your consent, we will audio-record some of the pen and paper tasks for scoring at a later time. Because this is very important for scoring accuracy, choosing not to agree to audio-recording will mean that your child will not participate in the study. Some of the other pen and paper assessments will be videotaped for clinician training purposes. You do not have to consent to videotaping. Declining to consent for videotaping will not have any influence on your child’s participation in the study.

If your child meets all the criteria for the study, you and your child will be asked to come to the research offices again for a Time 1 session and then again, five to six weeks later, for a Time 2 session. Each of the Time 1 and Time 2 sessions will include questionnaires for you, as well as pen and paper tasks, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan for your child. A specific pen and paper task from the Time 1 and Time 2 sessions will be audio-recorded for scoring accuracy purposes.

Half of the children enrolled in the study will be randomly assigned to the Training Group. Children in the Training Group will complete the thinking skills computer program between the Time 1 and Time 2 sessions. A member of the research team (the “Coach”) will introduce these children to the thinking skills computer program and will coach them on how to do it. The computer training is a 30-45 minute computer session each weekday, for five weeks. Children in the Training Group will be supported the entire time by their Coach. They can email or message their Coach at any time. The Coach will be able to see how much practice is being done with the program, and will send emails or messages to help keep teenagers from the Training Group on track. The other half of children enrolled in the study will be randomly assigned to the Control Group. These children do not have to do anything between the Time 1 and Time 2 sessions. Importantly, once children in the Control Group have completed their Time 2 session, they will be offered the same thinking skills computer program that the Training Group completed during the study.


MRI Scanning for Time 1 and Time 2 Sessions

For MRI scans, you and your child will be asked to come to Trinity College. We use MRI scanning to take pictures of the brain. The pictures show both the structure of the brain and which parts are most active while your child is performing the memory and social tasks. Before going into the real MRI scanner, we will help your child to prepare using a practice (“mock”) MRI scanner.

When your child is ready for the MRI scan, they will be fitted with earplugs and headphones to protect them from the loud noise that the scanner makes. There is also a helmet that is used to minimize head movement. While in the MRI scanner, your child will complete two short tasks, one for memory and one for emotion matching. A researcher will fully explain each task beforehand, and there will be plenty of time for your child to practice.


If you are interested in taking part in this research study or would like more information, please contact:

Dr. Brea Chouinard

Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience,

Trinity College,

Dublin 2

085 833 4160


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The Irish Society for Autism was created in 1963, and has long campaigned for the cause of Autism in Ireland and Worldwide. We are the longest established specialist service for people with Autism in Ireland. The Society was formed...
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