Audrey Courreges is the lab manager in the D’Mello Lab at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern). She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Southern Methodist University, where she studied correlations between school format and mental health symptoms among autistic youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following a position administering neuropsychological assessments to autistic children, Courreges continued her research career at UT Southwestern to join the D’Mello’s Lab. Her research interests largely revolve around the neurocognitive abilities of autistic individuals. Currently, she wants to better understand the cognitive underpinnings of special interests in autism and how these interests differ from neurotypical interests. She hopes to better characterize how special interests function in the cognitive patterns of autistic individuals. Courreges enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for autism and neurocognitive research, and hopes to encourage her mentees to approach research with similar excitement and curiosity.
Principal Investigator: Anila M. D’Mello
Undergraduate Fellow Project: Quantifying the impact of special interests on language performance in autistic children.
Special interests are highly motivating for autistic individuals and are associated with higher language network activation as well as better social communication outcomes. However, special interests are underutilized in research examining basic neurocognitive skills in autism. Although anecdotal reports suggest that autistic children talk more about their special interests, no one has carefully characterized whether special interests alter language behavior in autism, and what aspects of language behavior (e.g., lower level phonological processing vs. higher-order narrative processing) are most affected. This is of particular interest because language performance as measured by standardized assessments that are commonly used in autism evaluations might not accurately reflect true language capacity in autistic children. The SURFiN fellow will quantitatively and qualitatively analyze semi-structured interviews of autistic children discussing their special interests and compare language patterns between topics of special interest and control conditions. This project will help us to (1) determine whether integrating special interests has benefits for language processing, and (2) understand the true capacity of language processing and production in autism.