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Grad student seeks autism birthday videos

Oak Harbor High School alumnus Jason Wallin is asking for videos of family birthday parties, for a research study which may improve early diagnosis of autism.

Wallin, a graduate student at Central Washington University, says the spoken language deficits of children with autism spectrum disorders are well known, but researchers are just beginning to explore the non-verbal communication of these children.

His new study will look at a broad collection of gestures, to see if autistic children are doing more with their hands than we might usually notice.

To do this, he will use previously recorded home videos of children’s first, second and third birthdays.

“When studies of children with autism have included gestures, most have considered only a small variety, like some select styles of pointing,” Wallin said.

Wallin will compare the gestures of children with autism to those with more typical development. He hopes to describe similarities and differences, even when kids are as young as one year; well before the usual age of diagnosis for most children with autism.

Wallin will have help from his research assistants at Central Washington University.

“We are particularly interested in how and when children might use purely visual gestures, like waves or points, compared to gestures that make noise, like claps, or make physical contact, like grabbing a hand,” he said.

Along with early diagnosis, the study could also expand programs to develop verbal and non-verbal communication in autism.

If you would like to participate, or would like more information about the study, you can contact Wallin at 360-672-1701, or at the study Web site, ChildGesture.org. The researchers will return the videos to participating families, along with new DVD copies of the video and a gift certificate to attend a Chimposium at the world famous Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in Ellensberg.

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