Charlie came to his first appointment with the Early Social Development and Intervention Lab when he was 6 weeks old, after his mom, Megan, learned about the study through her OBGYN provider. Already involved in research with UofSC, Megan was enthusiastic about getting her son involved too. She contacted the ESDI Lab and we enrolled Charlie in the study shortly after.
At the time, little did Megan know the extent to which this study would shed light on Charlie’s unique developmental needs. Nor did she realize how it would pave the way for him to receive helpful resources for his language and communication. Because of the close monitoring and feedback from the study, Megan learned how to promote Charlie’s developmental milestones and gained access early intervention services when he needed them most. Charlie’s younger brother, Rory, is now enrolled in the study and he, too, is benefiting from the close monitoring and support.
We had the chance to interview Megan as she shared her experience of participating in the research with her children. Here’s what she shared:
“I've loved it with both of my children. I look forward to it every time we come into the lab because it's just so fun to see the changes every time we come in.
With Charlie, I had no baseline of his development because he was my first kid. I had no idea what to pay attention to or how to encourage his development. During our lab visits I saw the tasks that they were having him practice in the lab, and I was like OK, I see what you're trying to get him to do.
We would go home and practice these tasks and this would give me an idea of what we could do to help him. Each time we came into the lab he got closer and closer to completing the tasks. It was so fun to see how he was developing and what he was able to accomplish after each session... Now I can practice these skills with Rory and I have a better idea of what to do with him. Every time I come into the lab I look forward to learning something new.”
Through the study, Megan learned that Charlie had some speech delays that had not been addressed with his other providers. The close monitoring and feedback she received helped her better understand Charlie’s needs and advocate for the right services for him. She stated,
“With Charlie I always assumed that he was progressing normally. But I did notice that he didn't babble a whole lot and I couldn't really get him to imitate our speech. We were always told that he would be ‘fine’ and that he would grow out of it. But Dr. Bradshaw noticed these concerns too and monitored him closely through the study. She encouraged us to get speech therapy in place and wrote a detailed recommendation letter to Baby Net. This was all it took for us to get the services for him. We got Charlie enrolled in speech therapy when he was 2 years old then in occupational and physical therapy to support his gross motor skills.”
Megan also stated that the study helped calm her fears about her children’s development. Knowing that Dr. Bradshaw and her team of expert clinicians were monitoring her children and providing recommendations as needed helped her relax.
“Participating in the study was the best thing we have done for them… it helps you relax to know that someone else is closely monitoring you child and giving you a second opinion… You don’t have to worry about it or second guess yourself.”
Now, it’s been over two years since Charlie first enrolled in the study. He has graduated from the program and continues to show progress with his development since receiving the speech, occupational, and physical therapy services. His communication continues to show improvements and he is “playing more like a child his age.”
Without this research, according to Megan, “we wouldn’t have known he had these delays or that these services were needed at this time. Without participating in the study we definitely would not be where we are today.”
Towards the end of the interview, I asked Megan what feedback or advice she would give to parents who are interested in the study, but who might feel hesitant to take the next steps. Here's how she responded:
“I definitely understand the hesitancy. You don't want your children feeling like they’re lab experiments or something like that. But the research really just involves watching how they develop and how they learn new skills. They observe your infant while you and your baby play in a controlled environment… There’s nothing scary about it. If at any point the kids get uncomfortable or fussy, they stop and let them have a break. There's no reason to not participate in this lab because if anything, just the data that you get from their scores and all of the feedback from Dr. Bradshaw makes it all worth it. Anyone who is interested should participate… I mean, it’s just invaluable.”
Did you know changes in the brain within the first year of life can predict behavior 1-2 years later?
Here at the Early Social Development and Intervention (ESDI) Lab at UofSC, we are pushing the needle for earlier diagnosis of autism. Our lab is led by Dr. Jessica Bradshaw, a psychologist and researcher who studies early identification and intervention for autism spectrum disorders within the first year of life.
Currently, children with autism cannot be behaviorally diagnosed until 2-3 years of age. However, emerging research indicates the presence of certain biomarkers in infancy that may predict an autism diagnosis. By identifying early biological and behavioral processes that predict the emergence of social communication disorders, Dr. Bradshaw hopes to develop frameworks for very early intervention for infants.
In other words, if we can learn how to diagnosis infants at a very young age, this could help promote early intervention within the first year of life. This could help to promote early social and language development for infants at risk, and even prevent some of the most challenging behaviors in ASD.
ESDI Lab Infant Study
We are currently enrolling families for our Infant Study where we monitor infants through their first 2 years of life. Our participants come into the lab for 1.5 – 2-hour sessions where we provide detailed developmental assessments (for free!). Most of these assessments involve us tracking infants’ attention and heart rate while they watch short videos and play with their caregivers. Everything here is infant friendly!
Participating families receive close monitoring of their infants through the first 2-3 years of their infants’ life, free developmental feedback, a comprehensive autism screening at 24 months, and a $25 gift card after each visit (with the option to earn up to $300!). We also help connect families to early intervention services or other resources as needed.
Interested In Participating?
We are currently enrolling infants from different backgrounds for this study. If you are a caregiver with an infant under 4-6 months old, you may qualify! We are specifically looking for:
Infants with Old Siblings
We are looking for families with an infant under 4 months of age who have a full biological sibling. These families do not need to have a history of autism in order to be eligible.
Infants Born Preterm
Do you have an infant born preterm and wish to closely monitor developmental milestones? Your infant may also be eligible for this study! We are also looking for preterm infants under 4 months of age to participate.
Infants with an Older Sibling with Autism
Finally, we are seeking infants under 6 months of age who have an older sibling with autism. According to a study at the Yale School of Medicine, younger siblings of children with autism have a 20% likelihood of developing autism themselves. Dr. Katarzyna Chawarska, a professor and researcher with the Yale Child Study Center states that “While the majority of siblings of children with ASD will not develop the condition themselves, for those who do, one of the key priorities if finding more effective ways of identifying and treating them as early as possible.”
This is what our infant study aims to do.
Families can sign up to participate by filling this form through our website. We will contact them directly to discuss eligibility, scheduling, and help answer any questions.
Are you a caregiver interested in participating, but don't meet any the criteria above? Still contact us to discuss additional research opportunities that may be available for you and your family.
On behalf of the entire Early Social Development and Intervention Lab, thank you for helping to make this research possible. Our hope is that this will help change the lives of children and families affected by autism in years to come. Please share this post with anyone who may be interested or benefit from this research.
P.S. Want to get more involved and help us spread the word?
Join our REF (Research Empowering Families) Recruitment Club by signing up here. You’ll receive more information related to recruitment, outreach, free childcare opportunities, and special events… just for REF members!