The Social Emotional NeuroScience Endocrinology (SENSE) lab is a translational research program, which aims to evaluate social interaction and stress responsivity of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In the multidimensional studies, several methods are used including neuropsychological measures, sophisticated behavioral observational techniques, assessment of biological markers of arousal (e.g., cortisol and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)), and neuroimaging techniques (i.e., functional MRI and event related potentials, ERPs).
The SENSE program is fundamentally translational through the inclusion of naturalistic paradigms, peer mediation and novel therapeutic approaches that have been informed by previous and ongoing studies in the lab.
The SENSE Lab is directed by Blythe A. Corbett, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Investigator with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. Dr. Corbett has established expertise in clinical psychology and neuroscience with an emphasis in the study of children and adolescents with ASD.
Stress and Social Functioning
A cornerstone of the SENSE research program is to explore the rhythmicity and responsivity of cortisol and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, and factors that can ameliorate and exacerbate stress. Dr. Corbett’s research has led to a proposed Neuroendocrine Spectrum Model that examines the interplay between social engagement and physiological arousal to form subgroups within ASD. In recent years, we have initiated other projects exploring the autonomic nervous system to include examining respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA).
Research in the SENSE lab has shown strong associations between social functioning and stress in ASD. Currently, we are particularly interested in developmental and hormonal factors that may impact social stress, especially during pubertal development when significant physical, social and physiological changes coincide with this dynamic transition marking a time of increased vulnerability in populations prone to enhanced arousal and poor adaption to change, such as ASD. (see: http://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/studyfinder/439).
In 2009, Dr. Corbett developed SENSE Theatre® in a novel intervention research program utilizing theatrical techniques and established behavioral strategies. The core autism-specific skills targeted in SENSE Theatre include reciprocal social interaction and communication, empathic responding, nonverbal communication, coordinated movement, as well as spontaneous, flexible thought and behavior. Previous research has shown significant improvement in many areas of social competence in participants with ASD.
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