Lecture looks at neural connectivity and joint attention in autism

The way in which various regions of the brain connect or not, and how that relates to an autistic child’s inability to engage someone else’s attention, is what education and psychiatry Professor Peter Mundy will discuss next week.

The Lisa Capps Professor of Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Education at the University of California, Davis, Mundy will address “Neural Connectivity, Joint Attention and the Social-Cognitive Deficits of Autism”. The talk, presented by York’s Department of Psychology, will run on Thursday, Dec. 11, from 4:30 to 5:30pm, Room 163, Behavioural Sciences Building, Keele campus.

Mundy, director of Educational Research, Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute, will look at how neural connectivity models of autism are related to the development of joint attention deficits in autism. Children can initiate joint attention by drawing someone’s attention to an object or event, or they can respond to someone else’s bid for attention by following that person’s gaze or gestures. Joint attention, which requires several networks in the brain to work together, is an important first way of communicating that plays a large role in social competence later. In children with an autistic spectrum disorder, their joint attention ability is impaired.

Right: Peter Mundy

“Models of neural connectivity may provide a basis for unifying genetic and neurodevelopmental models of autism with what we know about social-cognitive impairments and the early cardinal social symptoms of the syndrome,” says Mundy, a developmental and clinical psychologist. He has been working on defining the nature of autism for the past 26 years. When Mundy first started researching autism, little was known about the characteristics of the social deficits of autism.

In conjunction with Marian Sigman, co-director of the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Autism Research and Treatment, Mundy’s research has contributed to the current understanding of joint attention impairments and how they are part of the fundamental features of the early onset of social deficits in children with autism. His work on joint attention has contributed to improvements in the early identification and diagnosis of autism.

As part of his talk at York, Mundy will describe a new parallel and distributed information processing model of joint attention development. Mundy will also review genetic and imaging research which suggests that activity-dependent processes involved in functional distal connectivity between frontal and parietal cortical networks may be central to joint attention and the social symptoms of autism.

Mundy is currently at work on a book, titled Our Sharing Minds: Attention, Joint Attention and Social Cognition in Development and Autism, to be published by Guilford Press.

The event is sponsored by York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies and Department of Psychology. Refreshments will be served. All are welcome.