A Web-based tool to assess social cognition in autism

  • Awarded: 2015
  • Award Type: Explorer
  • Award #: 381283

How children recognize emotion from facial expressions, understand others’ perspectives, reason through social problems and regulate emotion is critical to their social success. These social cognition skill areas are often affected in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). They are also frequent targets of both behavioral and medical interventions for ASD. There are no reliable, comprehensive, easy-to-use, scalable and standardized assessment tools available to measure responsiveness to treatment in each of these social domains among children with ASD.

Matthew Lerner and Nicole Russo-Ponsaran are examining the utility of SELweb, a Web-based instrument used to track social cognition across all four of these domains, as a potential tool for assessing response to treatment in each of these skill areas. This investigator team has previously found evidence for individual differences, heterogeneity and clusters within the ASD population on these social cognitive measures, albeit among disparate instruments. In addition, Russo-Ponsoran’s team has validated and established norms for SELweb in a large sample (N>5,000) of typically developing children. These converging lines of research provide a unique opportunity to explore the viability of SELweb as a potent and accessible tool for examining social cognitive profiles in ASD.

The team aims to assess the validity of SELweb for use in children with ASD. They plan to administer the instrument across two study sites (Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York, and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois) in 60 children (ages 6 to 10 years) with well-characterized ASD and no cognitive deficits. They will evaluate the internal consistency of SELweb and examine the concurrent and divergent validity against well-established social cognitive measures of the same constructs. They will also compare SELweb performance in children who have ASD with the existing dataset obtained from typically developing children to establish normative profiles. Finally, they aim to assess feasibility and usability to inform any modifications that may be needed to maximize the utility of SELweb for assessing social cognition in children with ASD.

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